Becoming healthiest university requires grassroots approach, innovation, leaders say
By Adam King
Simple Healthy Habits
- Physical activity — 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
- Healthy eating — Five fruits and vegetables a day.
- No smoking.
- Alcohol in moderation — Maximum of one drink a day for women, two for men.
In past years, the State of Health and Wellness address at Ohio State was chock full of statistics and information about the health of the university’s population.
This year’s speech was more a celebration of dreaming big and how doing so can push Ohio State to be the standard of what it means to be a healthy university.
At each table in the Great Hall Meeting Room of the Ohio Union, attendees could write down their ideas on how the university could be more innovative in approaching health and wellness.
“It is OK to be innovative and have fun in academia,” said Bernadette Melnyk, Ohio State’s chief wellness officer, associate vice president for health promotion and dean of the College of Nursing. “We need to do more of that. That’s why innovation is so critical.”
To jumpstart ideas, Ohio State introduced the Buckeye Wellness Innovator initiative last year, encouraging faculty and staff to become health and wellness leaders within their colleges and units. Three teams were honored at the State of Health and Wellness address for their unique ideas.
In one instance, a team from the Department of Recreational Sports decided to remove the financial barrier to wellness — the fee members are charged to take any additional group fitness classes at the Recreation and Physical Activity Center. With the fee, only 700 people took advantage of the classes. After the fee was removed, interest ballooned, with more than 13,000 people expressing interest.
“We realize we can’t only work at the individual level,” Melnyk said. “You have to work in a social context, the organizational culture needs to be changed, the environment needs to be changed to make it easy and fun for people to engage in healthy behaviors.”
Positivity was a constant theme. Melnyk showed a video of a young boy yelling at the top of his lungs, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” only to miss the ball after every swing. At the end of his umpteenth try, the boy changes tactics: “I’m the greatest PITCHER in the world!”
Vice President for Talent, Culture and Human Resources A.J. Douglass said being happy equates to being healthy. Formerly an avid runner, Douglass had to shift her mindset to enjoy the 4:30 a.m. run she used to do every morning. Early on, she equated running with punishment: As a former basketball player, every missed free throw (and she had a lot) meant she had to sprint. It wasn’t until she decided to reflect on running as a positive in her life that her workout happiness curve increased.
“Please know we’re going to continue to take steps toward creating a healthy culture, a culture of well-being, but we need your help and need you to stay committed and focused on what we can accomplish together,” Douglass told the audience.
When university health statistics were revealed in a short segment, they showed Ohio State faculty and staff have some work to do. More than 28,000 employees completed the Personal Health and Well-Being Assessment, and 61 percent of them were either overweight or obese while 25 percent reported cholesterol levels greater than 200.
Larry Lewellen, vice president of care coordination and health promotion, said since the university began offering wellness programs over the last several years, OSU has yet to see the health of its population improve year to year.
Lewellen challenged faculty and staff to try and reverse that. As a cyclist about to turn 60, Lewellen said his biometric numbers have never been better because of the wellness programs in place at Ohio State.
“Our challenge is to be healthier next year than we are this year, and that’s a huge challenge,” he said. “As my wife would say, ‘You’re not any better looking, and you only have three hairs left, but you sure are healthy.’ The only way we’re going to be healthier next year than this year is at a grassroots levels; it’s not an ivory tower thing or a website or a program. It’s about people and what they do every day — to eat healthier and be more active in your department, in your office, at your home, with your family. It’s got to be a way of life.”