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Tipping the Scale: Health Hype on Campus

News & Features | February 25, 2011

Last fall semester, the rising health consciousness of the past decade took hold at Tufts University. A small group of Tufts graduate and undergraduate students joined forces to create the Balance Your Life health campaign, working to raise awareness about health issues and provide tips that students can apply  to their daily college routines.

Anna Burgess

Kate Sweeney, a graduate student at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition and Policy and a founder of the campaign, plays an especially active role in engendering health consciousness on campus. After noticing an information gap within Tufts health-centered resources, she felt inspired to take action.

“Since there wasn’t a dietitian employed at Health Services, there was a gap for students to get dietary information,” Sweeney said. “To breech this gap, we created a communication-based campaign.”

Though still not officially recognized as a Tufts club, the group meets on a weekly basis to brainstorm and promote health campaigns.

A program called The Gym Comes to You, allows students to participate in free fitness classes such as Kickboxing or Pilates, taking place in different dorms around campus. From the number of students showing up to exercise their homework-strained muscles, the initiative has proven successful. Evaluations show that many student participants are motivated to continue working out even after free classes end.

“We can’t keep providing these free fitness classes through The Gym Comes to You,” Sweeney said. “Our goal is to educate students about healthy options, so that they know what foods to choose over others and why those foods are beneficial to their health.”

Anna Burgess

Balance Your Life also boasts a savvy, informative Facebook page, run and updated by sophomore Charlotte Burger. The group maintains a website and a blog, which offer an array of health tips and information specifically targeted to Tufts students.

They have also produced a series of informational pamphlets for those interested in learning more about nutrition. Pamphlets are provided in Tufts dorms after each fitness class and at the gym.

“We think that people who are going to the gym are more interested in staying healthy, but we realize that just because people exercise, it doesn’t mean they are eating healthfully,” Sweeney said. “So it seemed like a good place to start.”

Along with nutritional pamphlets, fun and informative posters have been posted on the walls of Carmichael and Dewick-MacPhie dining halls. While both dining halls offer healthy options, it’s all-too-easy to wander over to the more indulgent options. But Balance Your Life intends to guide students in the right direction.

“There are great options in the dining halls, but there are also distractions,” said Sweeney. “Our goal is to stir students away from the unhealthy distractions, such as French fries and pizza.”

Group members recognize that finals week in particular can be a stressful time for Tufts students. Unfortunately, students tend to turn to mounds of junk food and sugar-heavy coffee to survive it all. During last semester’s final exams, Balance Your Life tried to temper sugary cravings with some healthier choices. Campaign members distributed healthy snacks such as apple crisps and 100-calorie packs of pretzels to students in different dorms. What’s more, each snack-pack came equipped with useful health tips for students. One of the fun facts alerted sleep-deprived students that the effects of staying awake for more than 24 hours mirror the effects of drunkenness.

Another exciting project currently underway is a series of healthy cooking lessons, planned to take place in the basement of Health Services. Campaign members will teach students easy, inexpensive recipes that can be made on-campus as nutritional alternatives to the pizza-and-Easy-Mac college diet. As an added bonus, cooking lessons will be themed. Lesson one is set to be the ubiquitously popular category of Italian food.

The campaign is also in the process of organizing a “girls only” and a “boys only” gym event, during which female and male students will receive exercise advice from an expert trainer separately.

Since its promising start,the Balance Your Life campaign has been successfully guiding students towards leading healthier lives. But at the end of the day, it is up to students to incorporate these new healthy diet and exercise tips into the fabric of their college routines.

“We are doing everything we can to make it easy to live a healthy lifestyle,” said Sweeney, “but it is up to the students to make our campaign sustainable.”