Question: Why are health and wellness important in a university setting? What are the major health and wellness issues being faced by the system or by your constituent university or campus? What steps are being taken at your level to address these concerns? What more do you think can or should be done to improve health and wellness on campus?
Prof. Cecile Leah T. Bayaga
Department of Food Science and Nutrition
College of Home Economics
Most people hold health and wellness as an ideal, but in order to truly achieve a state of optimal wellness or well-being, one must first be clear about its meaning. Although there is no universally accepted definition of wellness, below are a few definitions:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (World Health Organization)
“We view wellness as much more than just a state of physical health. It also encompasses emotional stability, clear thinking, the ability to love, create, embrace change, exercise intuition and experience a continuing sense of spirituality.” (The Alliance Institute for Integrative Medicine)
“Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence.” (National Wellness Institute)
“Wellness is an active, lifelong process of becoming aware of choices and making decisions toward a more balanced and fulfilling life. Wellness involves choices about our lives and our priorities that determine our lifestyles.” (Arizona State University)
Therefore, optimum health and wellness is more than having a sound body and eating adequately. Wellness encompasses all aspects that enable a human being to have a fulfilled and satisfied existence.
Wellness can have a positive impact on work and academic success. By choosing and establishing healthy habits in nutrition, exercise, and other areas of wellness, an individual can set him/herself up to be more successful in academics and work.
In addition, many of the activities that keep a person healthy can also improve mental focus, lower stress. levels, and improve the quality of study/work time. For example, regular physical movement increases mental energy and improves mental performance by providing more oxygen to the brain through increased blood flow. The brain burns energy at ten times the rate of other body tissues and uses 20% of the body’s fuel. It is therefore important to consume enough water and nutrients to optimize brain function. This optimization of brain functions will make an individual’s time spent on thinking more focused and effective.
College campuses are more akin to small communities composed of students and employees ranging from service workers to senior-level faculty and administrators. Therefore, the issues and/or concerns on health and wellness faced by a university/campus are dependent on the concerned subpopulation.
In one of our classroom activities in FN 10 (Food Trip), an MST GE, a significant number of students for the past five years has expressed the need for more stalls around the university that sell more vegetable dishes, fruit varieties, and non-fried and non-processed snack items that are affordable. The students also mentioned the need for nutrition messages or information posted or disseminated throughout the campus.
For faculty and staff, there is probably a need for a regular, sustainable, and administration-supported or endorsed nutrition, health and wellness program at the college or university level. Most of the time, wellness programs initiated by different units are short-lived, and the majority of the programs concentrate on exercise and eating right. Emphasis should also be given to stress management, thinking effectively, and working more productively.
At the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, nutrition lectures and counselingfor students and staff are conducted as part of class activities in nutrition education and diet therapy. The Department also organizes nutrition lectures, aerobics, or zumba activities for the staff. These are small, low-impact activities. However, these lectures, if attended by the staff, and if nutrition counselingis held regularly, are likely to contribute to the nutrition and health quotient of the university. The University Health service offers dietary/nutrition counseling. However, additional manpower is needed to provide counseling or advise to more than 20,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty members and administrative staff. The current project on the reconceptualization of the UP Health Service is a laudable effort in increasing the health-seeking behavior of university constituents.
There is so much still to be done to improve the health and wellness on campus. To my knowledge, there has been no genuine study that has looked into the following aspects:
- The health and wellness needs/concerns of the various university constituents;
- How these needs/concerns are identified;
- The expected health outcomes of these needs and concerns which may include healthcare cost reduction, health behavior change, increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, or reduction in employee turnover;
- The support needed from the administration for regularity and uniformity across colleges and units and steadiness of health and wellness programs to be offered; and
- How partnerships with the communities around the University can be formed and maximized for the implementation of the nutrition, health, and wellness programs that will be created.
Participation should be incentivized to achieve enrollment and involvement in a wellness program. Incentives can take many forms such as financial incentives, paid time off work, and material rewards. However, most researchers believe that financial incentives are the most effective. Accessibility of facilities, ability to include family members, a supportive work environment, and encouragement from management and co-workers are also considered incentives to participation that remove several of the barriers that typically get in the way of participation.