June 14, 2017

Bikes, Veggies, and Workouts

A Seventh-day Adventist school in the US State of Alabama is on track to become one of the healthiest campuses in the United States by 2020. The in-progress Healthy Campus 2020 Initiative by Oakwood University (OU), a historically black university in Huntsville, was recently featured in a Progress Report of Partnership for Healthier America (PHA), a non-profit organization devoted to curb childhood obesity and ensure the overall health of the nation.

“It is a distinct honor to partner with a national organization that seeks to prevent and eradicate childhood obesity,” said OU officers in a progress report sent to PHA. According to the PHA website, OU has “committed to meet guidelines—developed by PHA in collaboration with some of the nation’s leading nutrition, physical activity, and campus wellness experts—around nutrition, physical activity, and programming on campus.”

PHA, a Washington D.C.-based organization whose honorary chair is former First Lady Michelle Obama, reported that its initiative for schools in the US is intended to foster a systematic approach to campus health. “[PHA’s initiative] provides a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to building, maintaining, and sustaining a robust health and wellness program,” the organization said.

Bikes stand ready to be checked out in the university library lobby. The Life Cycle Program, launched by Oakwood University in February, makes ten bicycles available for students and employees for one day. The rider also receives a helmet and a bicycle lock. [Photo: Oakwood University]

But PHA’s task is not only providing guidelines but also verifying results. In the case of OU, some of the school’s commitments include offering a minimum five types of fruits, five types of vegetables and two whole grain products at both lunch and dinner. The school also committed to making free water available in all dining, recreational and educational facilities, as well as providing marked walking routes on campus. In the area of wellness initiatives, OU is implementing an integrated, comprehensive annual wellness program for individuals on campus.

Concrete Improvements

OU’s decision to go bold on health promotion is bringing specific improvements to life on campus. Last week, the school reported that, in addition to student ambassador-led events during the school year, OU is continually working to revamp its cafeteria menu and update the offerings in its vending machines to include healthier options.

In February, OU launched the Life Cycle Program. The initiative, housed in the lobby of the university library, makes ten bicycles available for students and employees to check out for one day, with a current ID, similar to checking out a book from the library. The rider also receives a helmet and a bicycle lock.

According to reports by school officers, OU’s efforts are transforming the lives of its students, both regarding their attitudes about their personal health, and their eating choices and exercise habits. In a thank you card to program coordinator Shirna Gullo, graduating senior Farrah Melidor remarked, “I am healthier because of you and the Healthy Campus 2020 initiative!”

In an interview with PHA, student Richard Carr shared part of his motivation for taking part in the program. “I’m pushing myself to live a healthy lifestyle in everything I do and say,” said Carr, who graduates from nursing school this year and has been focusing his studies on preventive health. “Because I know better, I try to do better. I can tell other people about it, and they can see my example.”

Despite the positive outcomes so far, OU acknowledges its Healthy Campus 2020 Initiative is a work in progress. Most students are not yet meeting recommendations for fruits and vegetables intake and physical activity. The school, however, vows to keep working on it.

“In the area of food [and] nutrition, five of the ten initiatives have been completed. However, all of the initiatives are in progress,” reported OU a few months ago. “In the area of physical activity and movement, seven of the initiatives have been completed with the remaining areas in progress.” The school also said two of the programming initiatives have been completed, with the final program pending verification.

“This has been an awesome experience, and we look forward to completing the remaining guidelines,” school leaders said.

With reports from Oakwood University News & Information