by Marina Komarovsky
Sitting in at a Balance Your Life meeting on the Tufts-Medford campus, I had an opportunity to observe how this group operates. Tufts sophomores Charlotte Burger, Samantha Carle, and Caroline Geiger, along with Friedman MS Nutrition Communication and DPD candidate Kate Sweeney ’11, were discussing plans for the final exam period. Balance Your Life, a healthy lifestyle campaign for Tufts undergraduates was begun by Sweeney last fall as a project for her Friedman internship requirement, in collaboration with the Tufts Department of Health Education. (PLEASE INSERT LINK TO “BALANCE YOUR LIFE: BRINGING FRIEDMAN LESSONS TO MEDFORD”). Over this academic year, it has grown into a truly collaborative, multifaceted, sustainable approach to promoting nutritious eating and physical activity on the undergraduate campus.
Why are nutrition and physical activities issues on a college campus? “It’s interesting because lots of people came from doing Varsity sports in high school, and now they are going from being on a structured team to not having structure [for engaging in physical activity],” one of the students expressed, as she arranged pictures on a Balance Your Life poster the group was putting together. “Students at a competitive college feel pressure to do well in school, but not so much in other areas … There’s pressure to just sit in the library studying, and going toward that goal,” said another group member. This, the students explained, meant sitting still for many hours and grabbing whatever food was convenient so that they could keep studying.
Seeing that taking care of oneself is especially important and challenging during the final exam period, the Balance Your Life group increases its efforts during this time. Last semester, they worked with residence assistants to host healthy trail mix-making events in the dorms. (PLEASE INSERT L INK TO “TUFTS UNDERGRADS FUEL UP FOR FINALS WITH HELP FROM BALANCE YOUR LIFE”). This year, they discussed an outdoor yoga session to promote relaxation, relay races on the lawn to promote physical activity, and grilled veggies outside the student center to promote good nutrition. Outdoor events in areas with high student traffic were right on track with the group’s objectives of making sure that Balance Your Life has a presence on campus, and making healthy lifestyle choices readily available to students. But the cookout presented some challenges. Was it necessary to obtain special permission to use a grill on a university lawn? Would it be expensive? Would students like the idea of grilled veggies as a snack? Then someone suggested switching it up. What about making smoothies instead? Plans began to take shape for a smoothie station serving custom-made, healthful fruit drinks to passing students. Everyone would love it. Visibility, feasibility, and collaboration with students – who have a pretty good idea of what their friends will be excited about – have been essential to the success of Balance Your Life over this past year.
After preliminary focus groups to determine the best ways to sell healthy lifestyle behaviors to undergraduate college students, the campaign kicked off last semester with a website hub that included a calendar and list of healthy restaurants around campus
, fun, informational nutrition posters displayed in the dining halls , fitness classes in dormitory lounges , and a collaboration with the student running group. While many of these have continued into the spring semester, new aspects of the campaign have materialized. From the very beginning, Sweeney envisioned getting other Friedman students involved, to help build a connection between the two campuses. This spring, Friedman folks traveled up to Medford to teach healthy cooking classes. Forming another connection, Balance Your Life now offers some of its free fitness classes in conjunction with Tufts Student Resources, a group that provides more advanced fitness instruction at a low cost. The idea is that after attending some of the free ones hosted by Balance Your Life, students can begin to feel more confident and transition to committing to a paid higher level class through Tufts Student Resources.
Meanwhile undergraduate students volunteering for Balance Your Life created bulletin board displays for student dorms, where their peers spend a lot of time hanging out, and will have a chance to read up on some health tips. They wanted to show who was behind the displays, so one of the students designed a logo [INSERT PICTURE “LEFT” OR “RIGHT” DEPENDING ON WHERE IT IS PLACED] which now appears on the website as well as all Balance Your Life posters and give-aways, including bumper stickers and aluminum water bottles. To reach out via the Web, the team also created a new blog and a Facebook page – essential for promoting anything to internet-browsing, smart phone-yielding college students – in addition to the campaign’s website.
Evaluation of any program or campaign is essential for assessing success and guiding future improvements, and Sweeney has sought feedback by administering online surveys to students who participate in Balance Your Life activities. This way, they have received some great feedback. For instance, sixty percent of students who completed a survey about the first cooking class indicated that they have since used one of the recipes taught in class, and all answered that they would use at least one of the cooking skills that they learned. From fitness class surveys, Sweeney has heard that students enjoy the fact that classes are free and that they are conveniently located in the dorms, so these preferences can be taken into account in designing future Balance Your Life initiatives. Sixty percent of student who completed the survey said that they have actually increased their physical activity level since the class – success! – and those who still had trouble fitting in physical activity indicated that their reasons for this included schedule constraints (57%) and class offerings (43%). So these are things that Balance Your Life can work with.
Another measure of success is that Balance Your Life has been sought out on campus by several groups, showing that it has been incorporated into the campus culture. Resident assistants asked Sweeney to speak to students in their dorms about ways to practice healthy behaviors during the summer, when those sticking around at Tufts will move out of the dorms and into apartments which may be further from campus dining options. She has also been invited to give a presentation at the Nutrition 101 class.
What’s in store for next year? Currently a Health Services program, Balance Your Life is applying for student organization standing. While they will still be able to retain their space in the Health Services building and maintain collaborative efforts with the Department of Health Education, becoming a student organization will allow them more access to funding through student activity allocations. Another move will be to get athletes on board. While a greater percentage of student participants has been female, by collaborating with the athletic teams, the group hopes to reach out to both men and women who are already attuned to healthy choices. These students can help to get their peers engaged in the campaign.
Now at the end of its first year, Balance Your Life has come far. Starting with an idea and some statistics on students healthy habits, it has evolved into an extensive campaign that engages Tufts undergraduate as well as Friedman graduate students, seeks to figure out what students want, and finds ways both to teach them about healthy eating and exercise, and to provide ways to make it fun and easy. And it’s just getting started. Check it out at http://ase.tufts.edu/healthed/balance.htm. To get involved next year, contact Kate Sweeney at Kathryn.email@example.com.
Marina Komarovsky is a Friedman alumna (’11) with MS-Nutritional Epidemiology/MPH-Health Communication degrees from Tufts. Her goal in writing is to relate study findings from researchers who are into nutritional biochemistry and statistics to those who are not into those things at all. She currently works as a research coordinator at Northeastern University.