To Your Health

It’s almost time for that New Year’s resolution again. What’s it going to be this time? Eat better? Quit smoking? Walk more? Drink less? And how long will it last? We all make resolutions with a wink and a nod, aspiring to lead healthier lives but rarely believing that we will follow through on the hard choices that those lives demand. It’s just too easy to slip into old behaviors when temptation abounds. But what if the healthier options were easier to grasp? What if your very surroundings fostered better choices? That’s the idea behind Healthy Campuses; holistic environments where students, administrators, faculty, and staff live better by design.

The project started as an outgrowth of Healthy People 2010. This government initiative has promoted the health and well being of American citizens since 1979. Healthy Campus 2010 and Healthy Campus 2020 establish national college health objectives and serve as a basis for developing plans to improve student health. It is supported by the American College Health Association (ACHA) with research and plans of action. The ACHA recognizes 10 health indicators, which include a variety of facets from physical activity, substance abuse, mental health, and access to health care, along with environmental quality.

Healthy by Definition

How are schools defining a Healthy Campus?

“A Healthy Campus is one that is optimally and sustainably organized to support, strengthen, and enhance health,” reports Jennifer Goree, M.Ed., director of the Healthy Campus Initiative for Clemson University (www.clemson.edu/campus-life/campus-services/redfern/healthy-campus). Clemson’s program, founded in 2010, addresses the health of the campus from a socio-ecological model. “It should enable students to better achieve, learn, and serve.”

Some schools already have many different programs in place but need centralizing. “We had a variety of different programs going on and no one was communicating, so there was quite a bit of overlap,” says Marci Torres, MPH, director, Healthy Campus Initiative at the University of Oregon. “The Healthy Campus Initiative lets us consolidate and brand programs.” Her school’s newly unveiled Healthy Oregon logo will appear as a stamp of approval on a variety of programs. Because their initiative is partially funded by a grant from PacificSource Health Plans, the school can offer programs to faculty and staff as well as students.

One of the programs Torres is most proud of right now is the Smoke Free/Tobacco Free program. Currently in Oregon one must be at least 10 ft. from a facility’s entrance to smoke, but starting in September 2012, the University of Oregon’s (U of O) entire campus will be completely tobacco free. “That includes chewing tobacco, hookahs, and electronic cigarettes,” says Torres. “What’s really cool about this is that was student-driven.”

The U of O has other interesting programs under their Healthy Campus umbrella, including a Take Back the Tap initiative to encourage refilling and reusing water bottles, and a 5K Run with the President. They also offer the staff an “active meeting room.” This space is equipped with treadmills and spin bikes so occupants can work while working out while an overhead sound system records the proceedings.

As Clemson’s program is funded through student health fees, they can only offer services to students at this time. “But any systematic changes we make will naturally impact staff and faculty as well,” says Goree. Her school provides programs like alcohol abuse prevention, walking groups, and sustainability education. “I believe that the link between health and sustainability will continue to expand in the near future.”

Low-Hanging Fruit

Dining halls are a great place for Healthy Campus programs, and the U of O is taking full advantage of theirs. “The fruit basket is the first thing people see when they enter the dining hall and students are allowed to take two pieces of fruit with them when they leave,” reports Torres. “The french fries are still there, but the fruit and vegetables are the default choice.”

Not every school enjoys the same level of cooperation with their initiatives. While many colleges in California participate in the Healthy Campus program, San Jose State University Professor Marjorie Freedman decries her school’s lack of involvement. “I had the idea to move junk foods out of the school long before the official initiative,” she says. “I worked with our food service provider to offer more access to fruits and vegetables, signage on correct portion sizes, and point of purchases labeling. But there has been a change in leadership and those improvements are gone.” To say the pendulum has swung back is an understatement. “The school now even has a cereal bar where you can put ice cream toppings on sugared cereal,” Freedman laments.

Get Moving

Increasing physical activity is high on everyone’s health list, and there are lots of ways to do that. Clemson is working towards the goal of creating a walking/bike riding campus by limiting the areas that single-occupancy cars can utilize. The U of O is developing a walking/running trail with individual workout stations called a parcourse. And the University of Northern Colorado has implemented a Blue Cruiser Bike program.

This free, shared bike program, available to all on campus, allows people to rent a cruiser bike for a week at a time. The bike is adjusted to the user and comes with a helmet, U-lock, and optional basket. After a week, the bike is turned in for maintenance and a new bike can be rented if one is available. “The program started last spring and is extremely successful,” says Scott Schuttenberg, director of Campus Recreation, University of Northern Colorado. In fact the school has just ordered 50 more bikes.

Beautiful, healthy grounds make bike riding more enjoyable and safe. Patrick McDonald, manager, landscaping and grounds, University of Northern Colorado, works hard to create that landscape as sustainably as possible. “Healthy grass doesn’t need much in the way of pesticides and herbicides,” he says. That means mowing to three inches high and mulching the clippings. “We still use fertilizers, though.”

In keeping with this theme, all new plantings must be at least 20 percent low water, or xeric. And green-thumbed students can get their gardening fix, too. The University rents 24 garden plots — to students or the community members — to grow vegetables for $25 a season. “It’s all about getting people to eat healthfully,” says McDonald.

Green for Life

Environmental quality is a big part of the Healthy Campus initiative, and schools are reacting strongly. Clemson is working to ensure that all new construction on their campus will be LEED certified, as is the University of Oregon.

“We are also working on recycling and composting,” says Torres.

Healthy campuses have further help on their side when it comes to being green. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)’s mission is to empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation. “It is difficult to envision a sustainable society if we lack human health — what would we be sustaining?” asks Paul Rowland, executive director, AASHE.

To that end, AASHE promotes an inclusive look at sustainability that includes human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world. College is the perfect place to start this education. “What they [students] consume, use, dispose of, and how they maintain their health and the health of the campus community is all part of the college education as they learn, not just the skills and knowledge of their academic major, but also how to live life and make both personal and professional decisions,” concludes Rowland.

And with any luck, these are habits that will stick for life. 

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