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Pioneer Wellness Challenge addresses health of first-time freshmen


Health Education Educator Janice Frias, from left, worked with students, including Peer Advocates for Wellness interns Lilian Toliao and Alfonse Filio, to develop the Pioneer Wellness Challenge. (Photo: Erin Merdinger)

  • November 16, 2009

Living on campus and on their own for the first time can be an exciting yet stressful experience for many students who struggle to balance academic priorities with nutrition and physical fitness. Student Health Services is stepping in to help reduce the rate of obesity among first-time freshmen through the Pioneer Wellness Challenge, a nine-week program targeting volunteers’ eating and exercise habits, Health Educator Jennifer Miranda said.

“We hope to provide students with an educational experience that assists them in making healthier choices and motivates them to increase physical activity,” said Miranda, director of the Pioneer Wellness Challenge. The project is slated to begin in January.

A $50,000 Kaiser Community Benefit Grant will fund the program, which aims to motivate first-time freshmen living on campus to change their eating and exercise habits by learning new skills and adding several activities to their daily.

Among first-time freshmen at CSUEB, 6 percent consume the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and fewer than half engage in the recommended amount of physical activity, according to findings from the American College Health Association’s 2008 National College Heath Assessment. The assessment also revealed that approximately 35 percent of first-time freshmen have a BMI, or body mass index, indicating they are overweight or obese.

“Freshman students living on campus are eating all their meals from the dining commons or the University Union,” Miranda said. “They may need additional education on serving sizes, quick meal choices and methods for integrating great tasting and healthy alternatives to their diet.”

Participants in the challenge will compete in trivia-based game shows, sports scrimmages, group fitness classes and wellness workshops devoted to subjects such as smart snacks, eating at restaurants and sleeping and relaxation. Students can also participate in alternative activities including hula hooping, Nintendo Wii Fit exercises and scavenger hunts.

As an incentive, participants will receive a pedometer to track how many miles they travel while engaging in activities. They’ll also receive items such as T-shirts, water bottles and gym bags.

The challenge also includes assessment and monitoring of students’ health through the MicroFit Health Assessment System administered through Student Health Services. The system relies on computer medical devices that record and analyze students’ blood pressure, flexibility, body fat composition and weight, Miranda explained.

Faculty from health sciences and kinesiology will guide student interns who will help with the program’s implementation and evaluation process. The interns will learn program evaluation by contributing 90 hours of assistance in data input, questionnaire analysis and report writing, said Stephen Morewitz, a lecturer in the Department of Nursing and Health Sciences, who will serve as a site instructor for interns. Student interns who plan to become health professionals will receive experience running a health program and learning the theoretical basis of health promotion, he added.

At the conclusion of the wellness challenge, the program will be evaluated to determine if students participating in the study increased physical activity and consumption of fruits and vegetables, Miranda said.

The Pioneer Wellness Challenge will serve as a foundation for future wellness programming that will be offered in the CSUEB Recreation and Wellness Center, expected to open in fall 2010, she said.

“We hope to run the PWC this year and enhance the programming to offer it again next year with a larger demographic of students and perhaps to the entire campus community,” Miranda said.

“Health and wellness programs are needed by the entire campus community — all students, staff and faculty,” Miranda said. “However, as a pilot program we determined that first-time freshmen in housing would be a good place to start.”

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