Most college campuses aren’t known as a bastion for health and wellness.
Late night pizza runs and care packages with fattening snacks leave many students faced with the dreaded “Freshman 15.” And an overabundance of potlucks and campus vending machines has many employees wondering how they’ll ever fit into those “skinny” jeans.
Millikin University Fitness and Sport majors Courtney Feger, Samantha Blankenship and Brenna Ervin, and Dr. Tina Cloney, assistant professor of exercise science and sport, wanted to find a way to counteract the stereotypical college health culture and make Millikin a healthier place. Together, they created MU Health Beat, a 6-month program designed to educate the campus community on ways to integrate and embrace all aspects of wellness in their daily lives.
MU Health Beat began in October and has approximately 60 registered participants. The first step of the program required participants to have their body composition tested by the students, who determined how their measurements compared to recommendations for long-term health and wellness. From there, the students worked with participants to set individual goals for reducing body fat percentages. Participants attend weekly sessions (hosted by Cloney and her students) that offer tips for healthful eating and fitness, and access additional information on the website designed especially for the program.
“The program doesn’t just strive to help people lose pounds, but more importantly, fat mass – a big contributing factor to conditions like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease,” remarked Cloney. “In addition, the participants are learning to make healthier choices on a daily basis – not only to achieve weight goals, but for long-term wellness.”
“Most people live unhealthy lives not because they want to, but because they lack the info and education needed to make healthy choices,” said Blankenship, a junior from Mt. Zion. “This program is the perfect opportunity to get that education.”
“MU Health Beat has been a good experience for me,” remarked Dr. Bobbi Gentry, assistant professor of political science and a program participant. “It has helped me focus on my nutrition and exercise habits, because it has made me more conscious of how these things impact my overall health. The website provides easy access to a variety of information about health and wellness, including videos of our weekly sessions. The program reminds me that health is an everyday experience, and that I need to set aside the time to think about what I am doing and eating.”
The program is also helping to prepare the Fitness and Sport majors for their future careers, said Cloney. “Brenna, Courtney and Samantha are all interested in nutrition and fitness, and plan to attend graduate school to pursue degrees in dietetics (nutrition practice). This has allowed them to engage in their field, and will hopefully set them apart from their peers when applying for graduate programs. In addition, they have been able to witness firsthand the impact they’re having on the very types of people they hope to help in the future. It’s been amazing to see how the program has fueled their passion for nutrition and made a difference in the lives of others.”
“When the idea for MU Health Beat came to my attention, I was very excited to participate,” remarked Ervin, a junior from Rantoul. “At the time, the program had no name and little foundation, which gave us the opportunity to make it what we wanted. It has been wonderful to work on this project and raise health awareness on our campus and in the community. The participants are excited about the program and often talk to me about it outside of our usual meeting times. It’s been a great practical learning opportunity.”
Although participants will not have their body measurements taken again until the conclusion of the program, most have been tracking on an individual basis, and seem pleased with their progress, said Cloney. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback. We even had a practitioner from a doctor’s office ask if she could send her patients through the program,” she said.
Cloney commented that she is unaware of any other higher education institutions that have hosted a health and wellness program of this magnitude. She and her students are hopeful that other institutions will utilize the protocol that has been developed here to help them achieve their goals for health and wellness.
“MU Health Beat has become a resource for faculty and students to learn about nutrition and wellness and implement healthy changes into their everyday lifestyle. The support and commitment of the campus community has been amazing and I feel the program’s participants are on the right track to becoming healthier and making wellness a priority in their lives,” said Feger, a junior from Heyworth. “I hope the success of this program on Millikin’s campus is just the beginning, and we can help implement such a program on campuses across the country to spread the word on how important it is to live a healthy lifestyle.”