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Ohio State signs pact to promote nutrition, physical activity

Photo illustration by Jon McAllister

Photo illustration by Jon McAllister

Ohio State has a goal to become the healthiest university on the globe, said an official with the OSU College of Nursing. 

The university has taken the next step to get there this summer when it became one of 20 schools nationwide to join in a three-year commitment with the Partnership for a Healthier America. Schools participate in this Healthier Campus Initiative by adopting a series of guidelines to promote nutrition and physical activity on the university’s campus. 

“Our goal is to become the healthiest university on the globe,” said Megan Amaya, OSU’s College of Nursing director of health promotion and wellness, in an email. “By making changes in the culture and environment around campus, it will help us to achieve this goal.”

PHA was founded in 2010 with a mission to develop strategies to combat the childhood obesity crisis. The nonprofit organization “is led by some of the nation’s most respected health and childhood obesity advocates” and is supported by honorary chair First Lady Michelle Obama, according to the PHA website. 

“It’s about encouraging healthier habits now so that in the future, healthier habits are easier,” said Elly Spinweber, a PHA spokeswoman, on the Healthier Campus Initiative. “It’s an important time in a person’s life because it’s a big moment for life changes.”

OSU is the only Big Ten school currently committed to PHA’s Healthier Campus Initiative, Spinweber said.

The commitment requires that universities choose 23 guidelines from a menu of 40 different PHA recommendations based on the nation’s leading health data, such as data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Spinweber said.

The cost of Ohio State’s partnership in the Healthier Campus Initiative is $4,950, Amaya said.

“Health and wellness funds from the Chief Wellness Officer will pay for the cost of this partnership,” she said in an email. 

Spinweber said there is a need for increased health awareness, especially in college.

“What we see is that students’ overweight and obesity rates increase by about 15 percent during their first year of school and that, most, in general, are not eating enough fruits and vegetables or getting enough physical activity,” Spinweber said. “So it’s about there being a little bit of a need.”

Yet OSU already meets many of the requirements, Amaya said. 

“PHA put together measurable objectives that universities can strive to achieve,” Amaya said. “OSU already meets many of their objectives, which says a lot about the great past and current efforts conducted by Student Life and faculty/staff wellness with regards to changes in dining, recreation and wellness programming.” 

Some of the 23 requirements OSU chose include offering only healthier food and beverage choices in a minimum of 50 percent of campus vending machines, providing at least one bicycle parking space on campus for every 15 individuals and offering a minimum of 20 diverse recreational or physical activity opportunities during the academic year. Additionally, dining halls must offer a minimum of five types of fruits, five types of vegetables and two whole grain products for both lunch and dinner, Amaya said.

“One of the goals is really to make healthier food and physical activities really present on campus, making campuses a place where it’s really easy to get healthy food, where it’s really easy to be physically active so that we’re encouraging healthier habits that sort of carry on into adulthood,” Spinweber said.

Even so, OSU signed a $32 million contract spanning 10 years with Coca-Cola that makes the soft drink provider the exclusive beverage vendor at OSU. OSU originally started its contract with Coca-Cola in 1998 and chose to renew the agreement in 2008 to last until 2018.

The implementation of healthier options will not be one that students necessarily notice because OSU already complies with the 23 guidelines the university has selected, Amaya said. 

“Our intention is never to take away choices. Our intention is only to put healthier choices right out in front,” Spinweber said. “It’s all Ohio State. It’s a commitment that the campus makes to PHA.”

Molly Dixon, a second-year in zoology, said she has observed the implementation of healthier programming options on campus in places like the RPAC.

“I know that during finals week, one of the things the RPAC really pushes is to stay fit because that relieves stress,” Dixon said. “I think it’s great.”

The goal of the partnership is to help OSU strive to do even more to encourage students, faculty and staff to make healthier choices, Amaya said.

“The college years are a time when lifelong habits begin to form. For the first time, many students are making their own choices about food and lifestyle,” Amaya said. “By providing students and faculty/staff with the options to engage in healthier behaviors, we can make significant improvements in the health of our university family.”  

Michelle Stines, a first-year in psychology, said the initiative is important at a university in a nation that leads the world in obesity. 

“Instilling those good habits in college, I think that will help to make it a healthier America,” she said.

Ryan Hutcheson, a second-year in biomedical engineering, said he supports the partnership, especially since OSU has been ranked one of the healthiest universities in the country.

“You want to make sure students stay healthy both mentally and physically. Healthy living is clean living,” he said.

OSU officially announced its commitment to join the PHA initiative on Nov. 16. PHA’s Healthier Campus Initiative impacts more than 500,000 students and 126,000 faculty and staff nationwide, Spinweber said.

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