A Healthier U

Dana Humphrey / January 11, 2019

Schools that are making going to college good for your health

It is well documented that college students are, on many measures, less healthy when they leave college than when they arrive.

A 2016 study found that over the course of four years in college, young adults gained about 10 pounds, which translated into a 78 percent increase in students who are overweight and obese (from 23 to 41 percent) between freshman and senior year.

This should come as no surprise when you consider that, according to the same study, only 15 percent of students got the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week and most students did not meet recommended levels for fruit and vegetable consumption.

In fact, one study found the percentage of students failing to eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables to be much higher, at 95 percent.

That study also reported many other unhealthy behaviors among college students, including alcohol binge drinking and tobacco use.

The effects of these behaviors increase risk for a number of later-in-life consequences including diabetes, hypertension, psycho-social distress, and cancer.

Meanwhile, healthy behaviors in college are linked to better mental wellbeing and academic outcomes (including GPA). Schools throughout the country are taking note of this trend and providing options to help their students be their most healthy, successful selves.

Here are some examples:

Duke University

Duke University researchers have launched a three-year smartwatch project in an effort to promote healthier habits. Students participating in WearDuke will track their activity and sleep patterns using digital wearable devices. In this first year planning phase, researchers are developing a companion mobile health app that will allow students to track their own health, answer surveys and receive rewards.

Once the planning phase is complete, WearDuke will conduct two pilot studies with small groups of freshmen before launching the initiative to the entire freshman class in the fall of 2021.

The first pilot study, slated for the 2019-20 school year, is a feasibility study that will gauge interest and test whether students will wear the devices, answer survey questions, accumulate points and provide feedback. Students will wear devices that track sleep patterns and will be asked to answer surveys about their health, diet and other behaviors.

The second pilot study, in the third year, will not only track users’ health data, but also recommend personalized ways students can improve their health and wellness. They will also have the opportunity to learn about the risks associated with unhealthy behavior and discover ways to mitigate those risks.

UCLA Healthy Campus
University of California Los Angeles

In 2013, University of California Los Angeles Chancellor Gene Block announced the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative (HCI), a campus-wide effort to draw on the school’s research and teaching capabilities to find new and innovative ways to promote living well on campus. The initiative, which promised to foster a culture of physical, emotional, and social well-being, has had significant impact.

The mission of HCI is to make the healthy choice the easy choice for UCLA students, faculty, staff, and visitors. It centralizes health-related innovation on campus, fostering synergies and coordination among myriad departments and programs that support and educate about well-being, and leveraging the strengths of individuals and institutions on and off campus. It’s seven thematic subcommittees work to create academic, experiential, and structural approaches to living well.

The thematic working groups, called pods, are BEWell, BreatheWell, EatWell, EngageWell, MindWell, MoveWell, and ResearchWell and are led by campus experts in their respective fields. The work of these groups has resulted in improved walkability and bikeability on and around campus, plans for healthier eating options, meetings that incorporate physical activity, the expansion of community gardens and urban farming on campus, and the creation of web-based mobile applications to track fitness progress.

The initiative has also played key roles in enhancing student dining offerings, implementing a smoke-free campus program, and developing one of the nation’s first campus-wide diabetes prevention programs.

Wellness Environment (WE) Program
University of Vermont

The well-regarded Wellness Environment (WE) program at the University of Vermont is a neuroscience-inspired behavioral-change program that uses incentives to encourage healthy behavior in participating students. The program has four pillars: fitness, nutrition, mindfulness, and relationships. The program has a mandatory neuroscience class, meditation sessions, daily yoga, and personal fitness and nutrition coaches.

The Wellness Environment has a dormitory for participating students, which is drug and alcohol-free, and an app where students track their own behaviors and collect points.

The plan uses healthy habits to build healthy brains, which should lead to healthier decisions. The Wellness Environment has received interest from other colleges and universities across the country hoping to bring the concept to their schools.

Year of Healthy U
University of Pittsburgh

In Spring 2017, University of Pittsburg Provost Patricia E. Beeson announced that the academic year 2017-2018 would be the Year of Healthy U, designed to help students reach their optimal state of wellness, integrating physical health with emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social, and financial well-being.

University of Pittsburg students and faculty embraced the Healthy U focus, submitting 107 proposals for matching funds for health initiatives to the Provosts Office.

Of these proposals, 88 received matching funds in excess of $218,000. Other programs offered during the Year of Healthy U included:

Exercise is Medicine on Campus-sponsored activities and educational sessions promoting physical activity for students, faculty, and staff including a Push Up Challenge; Blood Pressure Checks; Step Up, Sit and Reach; Jumping Jack Challenge; Body Composition; Sit-Up Challenge; and Plank Challenge.
SHRS Edible Garden, created by The Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition, that helps the Nutrition program provide experiences that address the importance of diet and health in chronic disease prevention and management.
The harvested herbs and vegetables will be used for education and food demonstrations within the classroom and in outreach programs on campus.

Fitness U, a four-hour program, offering students the opportunity to ride CompuTrainer bikes which using gaming systems with virtual reality to bike along paths and trails through all types of terrain.
Pitt Moves consisted of adding physical activity breaks to courses at the Graduate School of Public Health and Center for Health Equity to help foster a culture of non-sedentarism.

Snapchat Culinary Demos
Princeton University

In 2018, Princeton University Campus Dining received the National Association of College & University Food Services “2018 Most Innovation Nutrition and Wellness Program” award which recognizes colleges and universities that have implemented a unique and effective wellness or nutrition program.
Princeton earned the award for a series of culinary demos broadcast on Snapchat. Recipes included vegan and vegetarian options, as well as sustainably sourced humane meat dishes. One story about a quick, nutritious breakfast generated 1,860 Snapchat views. Another, a live teaching demo with a chef, garnered nearly 2,100 views.