Healthy university, healthy students, healthy community.
That’s the philosophy behind UTC being one of the first colleges in the state accepted into the Healthier Tennessee Communities effort.
The goal of the program, launched in 2015 by Gov. Bill Haslam, is to improve the overall health of Tennesseans by encouraging participants to be physically active for at least 30 minutes each week, eat a healthy diet and stop tobacco use.
The program officially starts at UTC in August, says Carol Oglesby, assistant director of the school’s Health Education and Wellness Promotion and chairman of Healthy Living Initiative On-Campus.
UT-Martin is the only other state school in the program at this point.
For UTC, being part of Healthier Tennessee is “just the opportunity to really practice what we preach. We can set the standards and be on the forefront,” says Liz Hathaway, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance.
She and Oglesby approached state officials last fall to toss out the idea of applying the goals of Healthier Tennessee to the UTC campus.
From there, state officials got in touch with nine other colleges and universities to offer a chance to join the drive for Healthier Tennessee designation, says Russell Cliche, regional director for the foundation.
But from the start “it was apparent that UTC was the farthest along,” he says.
“It already had a lot of buy-in from senior administration at the college. … Sometimes that’s tough, getting that buy-in,” he says.
Hathaway says part of that buy-in is “definitely the fact that we have a great partnership” between Health and Human Performance, the School of Nursing, the division of Student Development and the office of Campus Recreation.
“We have a focus on trying to create events that reach faculty, students and staff instead of separating out each entity,” she says. An example is the Healthy Living Initiative that began on campus last fall.
At this point, UTC and UT-Martin are only in the running for the designation as an official Healthier Tennessee Community. During the year-long process to earn the title, the university must:
- Identify local wellness champions to lead the effort;
- Create a local wellness council that engages people in workplaces, schools and faith organizations;
- Initiate and sustain community-wide events and activities that support physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco abstinence;
- Track and measure outputs and accomplishments of the program.
In Tennessee, one in four adults smokes, and one in five high school students uses tobacco. The rate of obesity has risen to almost 34 percent from only 10 percent in 1988.
The state also is 45th in the country for overall health, and about 70 percent of residents are either overweight or obese. About one-third of the state gets no exercise. Tennessee has about 6.65 million residents, according to the U.S. census.
Some UTC students fit those unhealthy categories.
One in four students are obese and many suffer from such chronic diseases as diabetes and high blood pressure that generally go along with the extra weight, Oglesby says.
When it started in 2015, Healthier Tennessee targeted five counties — Decatur, Dyer, Loudon, McMinn and Rhea — and four cities — Franklin, Germantown, Kingsport and Tullahoma. Since then, the number of communities on the list has risen to 78. Sixteen have been officially recognized as Healthier Communities, 12 counties and four cities.
Moving to state colleges and universities is “a natural progression that feeds off of what we’re doing in 78 communities across the state,” says Cliche, who earned a degree in biology and psychology from UTC and has been an adjunct professor at the school for more than a decade.
Since a college campus is, at its core, a community, bringing the health initiative to state schools only makes sense, he says. But a college is distinctly different from a city or a county and can bring different elements to promote better health.
“The reality was that even though, yes, it a community, it is its own unique community,” he says, and can turn an “inward” focus on the campus itself.
When the program kicks off, UTC students will be integral to the effort, leading the pitch on health-related initiatives and getting buy-in from the campus as a whole.
“They’ll be helping to create and implement the different programs and activities, then disseminate the information and make it fun,” Hathaway says.