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Acting Locally

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Putting their classroom lessons into practice, FSPH students are spearheading health-promoting changes at the school and across the UCLA campus.

IF YOU SPENT ANY TIME WALKING on the UCLA campus this spring, you may have come across a group of students, staff, and faculty engaged in 10-minute exercise breaks. “Recess Time, Inspired by Instant Recess®,” which was adapted from the nationwide Instant Recess® movement pioneered by the late Fielding School faculty member Dr. Antronette (Toni) Yancey, aims to change the campus culture by promoting physical activity as an easily accessible part of the day. Whether you’re en route to a lecture, taking a break from work or simply touring the grounds, you are urged to join in. The scheduled fitness routines, part of the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative (HCI), are led by “health champions” - trained volunteers who serve as wellness resources and ambassadors to their colleagues and classmates. For the Spring Quarter, eight of the 16 UCLA Health Champions, including the group’s coordinator, were Fielding School students.

A close-up of healthy items available in a vending machine.

FSPH students are spearheading efforts to create a healthier environment at UCLA in ways that go beyond the Recess Time breaks. Craving a snack after all that activity? UCLA has approximately 100 vending machines, but truth be told, some of the options would be considered less than nutritious. Joe Viana, a Fielding School PhD student, thinks you'd choose healthier items such as trail mix, nuts, and air-popped snacks over chips, cookies, and other traditional vending machine fare with just a little encouragement, including having the healthy options at eye level and clearly marked. It’s more than a hunch. In the largest study of its kind on an American college campus, Viana found not only that UCLA consumers were interested in having the healthier items available, but also that stocking them doesn’t hurt sales. Viana’s study results are being used by the Nutrition and Diet group within HCI as it works with UCLA’s Vending Services on identifying optimal inventory. The findings are also being shared with other UC campuses and Pac-12 universities, as well as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“In public health we encourage physical activity, but getting people to make behavioral changes through education alone is difficult. Modifying the environment can have an impact, whether it’s by widening sidewalks, increasing the accessibility of bicycles and installing bike lanes, or adding visual cues and making stairwells more attractive.”  – Tyler Watson

Even closer to home, FSPH students, staff, and faculty who approach the elevators on any of the school’s seven floors are being advised of a healthier alternative. You can’t hit the “up” or “down” button without encountering a blue and white plastic sign showing a figure walking up stairs and urging you to “Burn calories, not electricity. Take the stairs.” The signs, adapted from similar efforts by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, are the work of Fielding School PhD student Tyler Watson, who is also a graduate student researcher for HCI’s Community and Environment section. For those who heed the call, a planned stairwell beautification initiative, promoted by the school’s Public Health Student Association, will ensure that the journey is visually pleasant. The stairwell closest to the school’s main entrance will be painted, mural-style, as a strategy to encourage greater use.

All that stair climbing is bound to make you thirsty, and two Fielding School MPH students hope to do something about that, too. Alan Chen and Kevin Milani are leading an effort, in conjunction with the undergraduate organization E3: Ecology, Economy, Equity, to replace the existing conventional water fountain in the main corridor on the Fielding School’s first floor with a hydration station - providing chilled, filtered tap water via both a regular water fountain and a quick-dispensing bottle filler. The plan - which has received funding from HCI and UCLA’s The Green Initiative Fund - would have both public health and sustainability benefits. “This will make tap water appealing for all while making it much easier to fill reusable bottles,” Chen explains.

The UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative - an integrated campus-wide effort to promote healthy lifestyle choices and develop best practices that can be applied in other communities - embraces core public health principles, so it’s not surprising to find Fielding School faculty and students playing key roles. “We’re working together to create a social movement around health,” explains UCLA Associate Vice Provost Michael Goldstein, a Fielding School professor who serves as chair of the steering committee for the HCI, which also goes by the name “Live Well.” Two of the five HCI working groups are headed by Fielding School faculty members: Dr. Wendy Slusser oversees the Nutrition and Diet section, and Dr. Richard Jackson heads the Community and Environment group. 

Taking the Stairs

A young man who is smiling, stands in the doorway to a stairwell and points to a sign that says “take the stairs.”
Fielding School PhD student Tyler Watson has spearheaded the “Take the Stairs” movement at the Fielding School, placing the signs so that FSPH students, staff, and faculty who approach the elevators on any of the school’s seven floors are advised of a healthier alternative.

Many of the school’s students have also become involved, including Tyler Watson, who assists Jackson in efforts to make UCLA’s physical environment more conducive to healthy choices such as bicycling and walking. “This is a wonderful opportunity to participate in a campus-wide public health initiative,” Watson says. His “Take the Stairs” idea stemmed from a New York City initiative that made the signs available for government buildings. The Community Preventive Services Task Force of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended these “point-of-decision prompts” on the basis of multiple studies indicating that they increase the percentage of people choosing to take the stairs rather than an elevator or escalator. 

“I thought the public health building would be an excellent place to do this, and that it would go well with the stairwell beautification,” Watson says. “In public health we encourage physical activity, but getting people to make behavioral changes through education alone is difficult. Modifying the environment can have an impact, whether it’s by widening sidewalks, increasing the accessibility of bicycles and installing bike lanes, or adding visual cues and making stairwells more attractive.”
 

Healthy Picks

A young man stands in front of a vending machine smiling.
FSPH doctoral student Joe Viana’s vending machine study found not only that UCLA consumers are interested in having healthier items from which to choose, but also that stocking these items doesn’t hurt sales.

As part of Joe Viana’s study, 35 of UCLA’s vending machines were stocked with either one or two full rows of healthier options, strategically placed at eye level. Each of the 35 machines was marked with a Healthy Campus Initiative sticker and each of the healthier options was marked with a sticker identifying it as a better choice. To become an HCI “pick,” an item had to be fewer than 250 calories and contain less than 35 percent of calories from fat, 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, 35 percent sugar by weight and 360 mg of sodium. (UCLA nutritionists made exceptions for a few products that did not make the initial cut that they judged to be wholesome.) All approved items had to be trans-fat free. The unconverted machines also contained some of the healthier options, but only about one-third of those found in the HCI-marked machines. “We also tried to make a general pricing differential that encouraged healthier choices overall,” says Viana, noting that the cost of some of the unhealthier items was raised slightly.

Approximately 100 people who bought items from both types of vending machines were surveyed post-purchase in October and November 2013 to get a sense of what motivated their choices, and Viana also analyzed sales data. Thirty-five percent of the consumers opted for HCI-recommended items at the converted vending machines, vs. 13 percent who did so at unconverted machines. Of those who reported approaching an HCI-branded vending machine without the intent of buying a specific item, 50 percent selected an HCI-approved product; by comparison, just 10 percent who approached an unconverted machine unsure of what to buy left with an HCI-approved product. Financially speaking, revenues and profits from the converted machines during October/November 2013 were no different from revenues during the same period in 2012, indicating that the move toward healthier products didn’t come at the expense of the bottom line, Viana notes.
 

Hydration Stations

Two young men stand either side of an illustration of a hydration station with a blueprint of hydration station behind them.
Fielding School MPH students Alan Chen (l.) and Kevin Milani (r.) are part of an effort to replace the existing conventional water fountain in the main corridor on the Fielding School’s first floor with a hydration station – providing chilled, filtered tap water via both a regular water fountain and a quick-dispensing bottle filler.

The sight of hydration stations in campus locations such as the Student Activities Center and John Wooden Center inspired Alan Chen and Kevin Milani - in consultation with Watson, who had previously pursued the idea before coming up against funding constraints - to successfully apply for HCI support to bring such a station to the Fielding School. Chen says he has heard from many students who either don’t like the taste of the water coming out of the traditional fountain or lament the difficulty of using it to refill their bottles. His group is currently seeking additional funding to implement the project.

“Hydration stations are the next generation of ‘water coolers,’ where people can spontaneously meet others and chat while filling their bottles.”  – Alan Chen

Converting the Fielding School fountain to a hydration station will send a message that the school promotes consuming water and doing so in a way that is environmentally sound - by reusing bottles to eliminate the waste generated by plastic containers - explains Chen, who also sees community-building benefits. “Hydration stations are the next generation of ‘water coolers,’ where people can spontaneously meet others and chat while filling their bottles,” he says. “This would be an opportunity for Fielding School students to mix with each other and with students in the other health-sciences schools who will pass through to use this resource.” After measuring usage and obtaining feedback from users, Chen’s group plans to assess whether there is an unmet need for additional stations in the Center for Health Sciences building. 
 

Recess Time

Two young women next to each other smiling, with one holding a hula hoop and the other a jump rope.
As part of the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, “health champions” such as Fielding School MPH students Jacqueline Sun (inset, left), the health champion coordinator, and Lonnie Resser (inset, right) have sought to institutionalize 10-minute exercise breaks among UCLA students, staff, and faculty. The scheduled fitness routines are inspired by the national Instant Recess® movement started by the late FSPH faculty member Dr. Antronette (Toni) Yancey.

As health champion coordinator, Fielding School MPH student Jacqueline Sun has sought to institutionalize the 10-minute exercise bursts on the UCLA campus. The Instant Recess® concept on which Recess Time is based, developed and popularized by Yancey, has caught on in schools, workplaces, community events, and places of worship across the country, in part because the routines are fun and accessible to individuals of all fitness levels, but also because they engage captive audiences. Since Recess Time seeks to recruit passers-by to participate in the activities, it has had to overcome predictable social and psychological barriers. “At first, people would see all of these hula hoops and jump ropes in the middle of public spaces and assume this was something that didn’t involve them,” Sun says. “But because we are in the same places at the same times during the week, people are becoming used to seeing us, and as this becomes more familiar, many are more willing to participate.”

“As a public health student, this is a great opportunity to participate in the planning and implementation of a public health program. It’s enabling me to change my campus community for the better while seeing the relevance and resonance of my education.”  – Jacqueline Sun

Even for those who don’t join in, the vision of peers taking part in physical activity breaks on well-traveled campus routes sends an important message that exercise is valued at UCLA, Sun notes. That message is reinforced by the health champions, who not only promote Recess Time participation among their peers, but also serve as sparkplugs for those around them. These efforts take many forms, from suggesting walking meetings and taking the stairs instead of the elevator to inviting all classmates to attend workout sessions, as the Fielding School health champions have done.  

“Public health is all about wellness and prevention,” Sun says of her leadership involvement in the campus initiative. “As a public health student, this is a great opportunity to participate in the planning and implementation of a public health program. It’s enabling me to change my campus community for the better while seeing the relevance and resonance of my education.”