Babatunji Farinloye is feeling great. He has made gym workouts a habit and is eating more vegetables and fruit, avoiding some of the processed foods he used to buy.
He credits his lifestyle changes to Activate, a free six-month program led by Heart & Stroke to help people reduce their risk of high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease.
Babatunji was part of the first group of 500 people enrolled in the Activate program, which provides coaching, information, support and online tools. It launched in 2018 as a pilot in the Greater Toronto Area, in partnership with the Mars Centre for Impact Investing and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
Babatunji, a 50-year-old accountant, found the program’s tracking tools motivated him to improve his physical activity, eating habits and sleep. He took advantage of the free two-month YMCA membership, including personal training. “I already belonged to a gym, but getting guidance on the correct things to do was good.”
Consulting a dietitian at Loblaws, another Activate benefit, helped Babatunji change his approach to grocery shopping. “Now I know what aisles to not go to! I know what to check on the labels and what I shouldn’t be buying.”
Activate is the first health-related program in Canada to be financed by a social impact bond, or “pay-for-success” model. That means initial funds are provided by private investors — in this case, a group of 11 that includes individuals, foundations and businesses.
If the program meets its targets, the investors are repaid with interest by PHAC. If it falls short, the investors lose some of their capital
Early results promising
Results from the first cohort are “very exciting,” says Erin Kim, Heart & Stroke’s senior manager for Activate. More than 90% of participants completed the program. Blood pressure readings for 112 people showed an average 5 mmHg drop in the systolic rate.
I know what to check on the labels and what I shouldn’t be buying.
That’s even better than the target set by cardiologists; they specified success as no increase in blood pressure readings.
The Activate team, which includes a big network of volunteers, was busy enrolling a second group of participants across several southern Ontario municipalities through June 2019. The program is open to people over 40 who have blood pressure within a specific range (121-139 systolic). People with diabetes or who take medication for high blood pressure are not eligible.
The plan is to offer Activate in Vancouver in 2020. The team believes the program has great potential to expand to more areas across the country, says Erin Kim. Based on the success of Activate, Heart & Stroke hopes to offer programs and resources to a broader audience in the long-term.
Meanwhile, Babatunji is keeping up the healthy habits he established in Activate. “It’s easy to fall off if you set your goals too high. Life challenges will always continue. For someone just starting out, start small and challenge yourself as you get better.”