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Student Health Promotion Committee

For students on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus campus, finding a work-life balance can prove tricky. Between tackling challenging classes and toiling away in the lab, who has time to go to a yoga class, not to mention afford one?

A new student group aims to ease this burden by improving and promoting well-being across campus.

The Office of Student Health Promotion replaced the Office of Student Health Insurance in March 2017, armed with a broader mission of creating a healthy campus culture. However, one key component was missing: student involvement. In response, the Student Health Promotion Committee was formed this past fall.

Finding student voices

“We needed to hear from the people we were serving,” said Jill Collins, RD, Student Health Promotion manager at CU Anschutz. “So, we decided to get a group of motivated students together to brainstorm ideas. We have a member from just about every school and college.”

The group, which is 40-members strong, meets monthly during fall and spring semesters. Members share ideas and create initiatives focused on making a healthy lifestyle accessible for the campus community, whether it’s providing free lunchtime group fitness classes or sponsoring a stress-reduction workshop.

The new Student Health Promotion Committee hopes to bring healthy options to CU Anschutz.

“We’re a campus dedicated to health and medical sciences,” said Kelsey Robinson, a first-year MPH candidate in the Colorado School of Public Health and communications chair of the new group. “We need to take the time to focus on ourselves. This group is a step in the right direction for connecting students to healthy lifestyles on campus.”

Being part of the larger office offers the student committee a centralized location for promoting health-related events on campus, Robinson said. “We are networking with other health groups on campus, and would love to promote any other free, health-related events on campus,” she said, such as peer support groups and charity 5Ks.

Setting data-driven goals

To focus its mission, the group used data collected from the National College Health Assessment (NCHA), a national survey tool created and used by the American College Health Association, to collect precise, current data about students.

HOW TO JOIN

CU Anschutz students interested in joining the Student Health Promotion Committee for the 2018-2019 school year should contact Jill Collins at jill.collins@ucdenver.edu.

“We wanted to make sure we provided services and initiatives that students wanted and needed,” Collins said. “The survey overwhelmingly showed that we needed to focus on improving nutrition, mental health and fitness.” Three corresponding committees were formed, each with its own short- and long-term goals. For instance:

  • The nutrition branch set a goal of providing healthy alternatives in the vending machines on campus.
  • The mental health branch made a goal of providing more opportunities for students to receive mental health support and skill development, such as “lunch-and-learn” student-run discussion panels featuring health professionals.
  • And the physical activity branch aims to provide free fitness classes in public spaces on campus. The classes would be drop-in and open to any students on campus looking to get their blood pumping.

“Look for events happening this semester,” Robinson said, adding that news and activities will be promoted on its Instagram page (@anschutz_shpc), its website, and through a weekly feature of the Division of Student Affairs’ “Campus Happenings” emails.  “We’re moving quickly and will be implementing changes on this campus before you know it.”

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Project takes AIM at rural students’ health and wellness

Elaine Belanksy of Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center
Elaine Belansky, PhD, Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center director, and co-principal investigator

After years of partnering with K-12 schools in the most impoverished area of the state, enhancing exercise and nutrition programs for healthier learning, a Colorado School of Public Health research team on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has gained more than $3.5-million in funding to take its project to the next level.

Researchers with the Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center were recently awarded two grants from The Colorado Health Foundation (TCHF) to continue their work in southeastern Colorado and San Luis Valley schools. The money allows for a significant expansion of the center’s strategic planning process, Assess, Identify, Make it Happen (AIM XL), through which district-level comprehensive health and wellness plans can be developed.

“What is most exciting to me is that this grant gives us a chance to continue our longstanding partnerships with these rural school districts and to expand our work to now support children’s emotional health in addition to physical activity and healthy eating,” said Elaine Belansky, PhD, RMPRC director and co-principal investigator of the Working to Improve School Health and the Healthy Eaters, Lifelong Movers (HELM) projects. “We’ve been focused on the obesity-prevention side of things, which is really important and a significant issue in rural Colorado, but so is emotional well-being.”

Longer reach, broader focus

Health project serves rural Colorado schools
The current RMPRC project encompasses 27 school districts in rural Colorado.

In HELM’s first three years alone, moderate to vigorous activity levels in elementary school PE classes increased by 66 percent, and nearly 100 evidence-based environment and policy changes to combat childhood obesity were implemented in the southern Colorado study area. The current project, which encompasses 27 school districts, now will align with the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model.

WSCC’s holistic focus with attention to 10 components, ranging from physical education and physical activity to counseling and social services, could have a dramatic effect in the region, Belansky said.

“We’ve heard from so many principals and superintendents that their No. 1 concern about students is their mental health,” said Belansky, adding that the region’s high poverty levels bring stressors that can sabotage children’s learning. In the largely agricultural San Luis Valley, an area the size of New Jersey with a population so sparse it could not fill Mile High Stadium, health-care resources are also stretched thin.

Benjamin Ingman
Benjamin Ingman, PhD, principal investigator of AIM-XL.

“There is a lot of need there,” said Benjamin Ingman, PhD, principal investigator of AIM-XL. “Being able to bring this focus to the kids’ well-being is really important. Kids need to feel safe and be well-fed before they can start thinking about being successful and happy in school. I hope that this program will help these schools focus on some of these baseline concerns.”

Happy kids, better learners

During her years focused on southern Colorado’s rural areas, Belansky has heard many heart-wrenching stories related to hunger, parents in prison, family addictions and poor living conditions, all matters that make focusing on school difficult for students and place huge burdens on teachers and administrators.

The RMPRC, with the help of project manager Shannon Allen, PhD, and others, aims to ease those burdens by helping school districts bring all players  ̶  including community agencies, staff,

teachers, parents, administrators and students  ̶  to the table to build programs and partnerships that support students’ overall well-being. Ingman, who wrote the recent grant proposal, said he hopes lessons learned from the team’s work eventually will reach beyond rural boundaries and influence other schools to broaden their educational aims.

None of the work would be possible without Ingman’s dedication, TCHF’s funding, and the support of school districts in the San Luis Valley and southeastern Colorado, Belansky said. “I’m so proud that we have somebody who understands schools and how important it is to focus on the health and happiness of the child, not just academic achievement,” she said of Ingman. “And I’m really proud that all of these districts in rural Colorado value working on the WSCC model to make a child’s educational experience a richer one.”

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