Across University of California campuses, and beyond, there is a growing movement towards healthier students of all ages. The seeds of this effort are spreading throughout UC and germinating into creative interdisciplinary programs that are having lasting results.

These programs are in part being created and spearheaded through the University of California’s Global Food Initiative, which seeks to address one of the most compelling issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a growing world population.

Teaching Important Life Skills

Consider UC Santa Barbara’s Food, Nutrition and Basic Skills Program. It teaches students not only about cooking and nutrition, but also about menu planning and budgeting. All from a mobile cooking cart.

John Lazarus, assistant director of the University Center dining operation, told us this about the value of the work:

 “We owe it to our community to do all we can to keep the environment, and the people who are part of that, healthy. [We’re] proud to be a part of that mission, from expanding the sustainable food offering here … to being a part of the Food Nutrition and Basic Skills program teaching students how to cook quick, healthy and affordable food.”

Read about UC Santa Barbara’s French-trained “Soup Guys,” who share a passion for fresh, local ingredients.

Special tip: Don’t miss the soup recipes.

Making Campuses Healthier

Photo by dcJohn.

At UC San Francisco, it is becoming easier to make healthy drink decisions. A Healthy Beverage Initiative removed every single sugar-sweetened drink from its stores, food trucks and vending machines. Even fast-food chains stopped selling the drinks at the university’s request.

Dr. Laura Schmidt, a UC San Francisco professor who organized the Healthy Beverage Initiative that took the drinks off campus, was quoted in the New York Times as saying,

“I’ve spent years in the addiction fields, and the first thing we tell people is that if you want to quit something, get it out of your environment.”

Read the story.


Applying Interdisciplinary Approach

Further south in Los Angeles, the Healthy Campus Initiative is celebrating its fifth year at UCLA. It’s an extensive program that features modules to encourage students’ physical, emotional and mental health. Along with a comprehensive website and blog for students, the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative takes an interdisciplinary approach to make the campus safer, cleaner and healthier.

The UCLA campus has added regularly scheduled meditation classes, health events, more bike trails and school gardens. The campus has become tobacco-free, and has added an undergraduate food studies minor. Even the vending machines have been researched and then adjusted to encourage the consumption of healthier items.

Dr. Wendy Slusser is Associate Vice Provost for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, She’s also HS Clinical Professor of Pediatrics in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health and Co-Founder and Medical Director of the UCLA Fit for Healthy Weight program. She told us:

“There is a huge opportunity to enhance students’ food literacy, due to their strong interest in food. We are developing a variety of academic and experiential ways for them to gain healthier lifestyle habits. All different parts of the campus are working together to tackle health issues and create lasting solutions.”

Learn more about food literacy efforts on UC campuses here.

Strengthening at all Campuses

This UCLA program is an example of how these healthy initiatives can be institutionalized on campus. However, it’s only a start. Last December, UC President Janet Napolitano provided seed money to all UC campuses to evaluate their current health offerings, identify strengths and leverage other UC resources in enhancing their own programs.

Campuses are working together to share knowledge and best practices among each other. Says Slusser:

“UC leadership recognizes that to be successful, UC students have to be healthy – physically, emotionally and socially. We are making the ‘healthy choice’ the easy choice at UC.”

Starting Healthy Decisions before College

Photo by The California Endowment.

Improving the health of college students is important, but reaching them even earlier in life is ideal.

We wanted to educate about healthy lifestyles even before students came to college. The new ‘Good Food for Local Schools’ website is based on more than two decades of research into the finest K-12 resources available. It’s part of UC’s mission to increase food literacy and healthy lifestyle habits among all ages.”

The site is a portal that links to a comprehensive and impressive array of resources, including curriculum, best practices for school lunch operations, policy models and research. It includes UC resources – including all 10 campuses and UC’s division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (which is home to 4-H, Master Gardener and CalFresh Nutrition Education programs). Resources from other organizations – including the Edible Schoolyard – are also included.

Read more about the site.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue to keep you updated on these student health initiatives.


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