UNH signs with Healthier Campus Initiative to boost wellness

Bret Belden

By Cole Caviston, Staff Writer

As the University of New Hampshire joins with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) in its Healthier Campus Initiative, many faculty are excited over the prospect of expanding healthier options on campus.

The decision was announced on Nov. 16, at the PHA’s Annual Meeting and Exposition that UNH was now a member of the initiative, which is comprised of 19 other colleges, covering over 15,000 students and 3,000 faculty and staff.

Kathleen Grace-Bishop, the director of Education and Promotion at UNH Health Services, said that university participation in the initiative will be essential in supporting health and wellness across campus.

“This initiative will be another effort to help support a healthy community for students, faculty and staff,” Grace-Bishop said, “[which is] part of UNH’s continuing work to reach its goal of becoming the healthiest campus in the country by 2020.”

As a member of the initiative, UNH will be pledged to a three-year commitment adopting 23 guidelines towards improving nutrition and physical activity. 

Among the guidelines supporting healthier food choices are a set minimum offers of fruits and vegetables, plant-based food options at meat service areas, free water at dining, educational and physical activity facilities, limiting fried food and labeling food and beverage items with their amount of calories per serving.

Physical exercise is promoted as well, with requirements for providing bicycle parking spaces and bike lanes, encouraging public or campus transportation and providing 16 hours of access per day to the recreational center.

Among the institutions on campus that contributed to the agreement were Healthy UNH and Campus Recreation, both of which performed overviews of the guidelines set forth in the initiative.

“Healthy UNH provided technical assistance to PHA to develop their memorandum of understanding for campuses to sign,” said Healthy UNH Project Director Kim Persson. “Once we were comfortable with the requirements of the initiative, we brought it to campus administrative for buy-in.”

“Campus Recreation was a part of several groups on campus that got to review the expectations that the partnership had before we signed it,” said Campus Recreation Director Stacey Hall.

Faculty are confident in their ability to meet these new expectations, as many feel that there is already a culture of fitness of health awareness present on campus.

According to Hall, about 80 percent of the student body came to Whittemore Center this semester for physical recreational activity.

“We have a pretty robust program and facilities that pretty much meet the expectations by the partnership, so we’re in good shape already,” Hall said.

The university has reportedly fulfilled “more than half” of the 23 guidelines and believes that the rest will be completed by spring 2017.

Rochelle L’Italien, the nutrition dietitian for UNH Dining Services, agrees that many of the proposals have already been fulfilled by the university but allow for the opportunity to acknowledge progress already made by existing campus wellness efforts.

“For example, we already offer a tremendous variety of daily options, including a plant-based food option, labeling of food items, full nutritional information, a full time registered dietitian nutritionist, fruit and vegetable options, healthy dessert options, tray-less dining and host of other education initiatives and events,” L’Italien said.

Other methods put to use by Dining Services include the use of the Wildcat Plate detailing healthy food options, a Nutrition Facebook page and the Guiding Stars navigation found in dining halls.

The broad focus on health within the initiative invites perspective from the faculty leaders who will be implementing the policy as to what they personally define as being healthy.

From Grace-Bishop’s perspective, health is a state of well-being that is not simply the absence of disease or injury.

“Wellness is a state of being, evolving from a way of living, that helps individuals achieve their highest potential though the integration of all components of their lives,” Grace-Bishop said, with components ranging from physical, social, spiritual, environmental and economic.

The others were in agreement that describing health went beyond physical fitness and incorporates various aspects of living well.

“I would define ‘health’ more holistically — with focus on mind, body and emotionally as well as attitude and positive thinking,” L’Italien said.

“To me, health is achieving a balance where my body, spirit and mind all feel good, and all my biometric numbers are in the right range,” Persson said.

There is optimism that the initiative will be beneficial towards improving health for faculty and students and the role campus facilities will have in helping provide improved alternatives towards a better lifestyle.

“It is my hope that by providing healthier options on campus, our campus population will realize that making healthy choices and developing healthy habits is important,” Persson said. “This initiative is another way for UNH to clearly work towards becoming healthier.”

Dining Services will use the three-year commitment, according to L’Italien, for “continued review of and implementation of the specified guidelines.”

“[Health Services] can support well-being around food and nutrition and physical activity by also looking at other aspects of wellness that are connected to these,” Grace-Bishop said. “For example, how not getting enough sleep or having too much stress can influence our behaviors in the areas that the initiative specifically addresses.”

Hall, however, does feel that having a grant program in the initiative would be useful for Campus Recreation as a means for applying for additional funding, an important issue as the department concentrates on the ongoing expansion project of the Whittemore Center.

“Our goal with the expansion project is to make sure every student feels comfortable pursuing any activity that works for them,” Hall said. “Sometimes when there are programs like this, you see a grant with it. We would like to seek alternative funding and take pressure off students.”