Mar 17 2014
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Health on Campus: Colleges Working on Changes for Life

“College is certainly a different experience today than it was in my day,” said an audience participant at a panel discussion late last week on campus health initiatives at the Partnership for a Healthier America summit in Washington, D.C. The partnership is a nonprofit that includes health leaders working on childhood obesity issues.

The college health panel, moderated by former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who is the president of the University of Miami and co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative, included Lynn R. Goldman, dean of the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services; Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, a historically Black college in Atlanta; and Michael Goldstein, Associate Vice-Provost for the Healthy Campus Initiative, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

A driving force behind health and wellness improvement initiatives on campus—including bike and walking paths, more staircases and smoking bans—is the opportunity to help students make changes that will last their lifetimes.

  • At Spelman several years ago, Tatum canceled the schools’ competitive sports program—which was benefitting less than 5 percent of the 2,000-person student body—and replaced it with a “wellness revolution.” The campus-wide programs include “Body Fat Tuesday” weekly checks, new exercise equipment and a “PE for life” initiative that includes integrating such things as lunges and squats for students waiting for tennis courts to encourage greater physical activity.
  • Changes at UCLA include a new restaurant, the Bruin Plate. Entrees—none more than 400 calories each—include root-vegetable tagine; a red-quinoa-and-sweet-potato burger with pineapple salsa; and chicken with dates, polenta and spinach. Side dishes have no more than 200 calories each and there are no French fries, traditional desserts, cured meats or heavily processed foods. The restaurant serves only calorie-free sodas and house-made infused waters with flavors such as pineapple-mango-hibiscus, vanilla-peach and butternut squash. Desserts have been overhauled and include seasonal fruit with balsamic sauces and lower-calorie quick breads.
  • Changes on the George Washington University campus, which is just blocks from the White House, include indoor and outdoor bike racks, four bike rental stations, widened pathways and changes at the Food Court to include many healthier options. Goldman says that since the school is in the middle of the city, rather than a closed campus, many of the changes were also aimed at benefitting the community residents.

“A lot has changed since campuses were filled with cigarette smoke and offered just a single dining hall with a set menu,” said Shalala. “We have a captive audience, and campuses are good places to learn healthy habits.” Recent changes at the University of Miami include more visible staircases and signage pointing to the stairs; widened walkways for walking and biking; bike repair stations; outdoor fitness equipment; and farmer’s markets.

Other recent wellness initiatives on campuses include:

  • Changes on the physical campus to help students at Wake Forest University de-stress, including a ping pong table; an outdoor piano; board games; exercise areas and equipment; and yoga mats at several locations on campus. The goal is to give students more places to meet and talk with their friends as an alternative to communicating via e-mails and texts. Provost Rogan Kersh says the “campus amenities [are] part of the university’s overall goal of creating an improved student well-being. [We hope] the initiative will instill habits in students that will keep them healthy, happy and self-reflective long after they leave college.” The changes were designed by Dan Biederman, one of the country leading parks, public space and streetscape planners and designers, who was part of a redesign team of Bryant Park in New York City.
  • The “Get Fit Challenge” at UC/Riverside, which offers an eight-week noncredit program that incorporates different areas of health including stress management and healthy cooking demonstrations. See the infographic below for more information.
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Tags: Physical activity, Physical activity policy