Student dietitians at California State University, Fresno are joining the fight to reverse the looming obesity epidemic through a new wellness program called HEAL (for Healthy Eating and Activity for Life).
Nutritionists-in-training will reach out to fellow students with healthful eating and lifestyle information through a student-staffed, yearlong effort that will combine one-on-one nutritional counseling, new online tools and a student healthy-weight competition in the spring semester.
The Fresno State HEAL Wellness Program is funded with a $35,000 grant from Aetna (NYSE: AET) www.aetna.com, whose Chairman, CEO and President Mark Bertolini brought his personal commitment to the project to Fresno State to present the check to President John D. Welty and Vice President for Student Affairs Paul Oliaro.
Bertolini said he wants to emphasize the importance of incorporating healthful eating and lifestyle habits during youth because “today’s generation of young people is the first to face a shorter lifespan than their parents, largely because of obesity’s significant toll on health.”
In the academic curriculum-Student Health Center collaboration, the student dietitians will provide direct counseling to fellow students who sign up on their own or who are referred by the center’s medical staff. During the year, student-interns will create nutrition-related materials and online tools that can be used on and off campus to decrease obesity-related health risks.
The educational materials and online tools will be available later in the year to the general public, surrounding public school districts and community groups.
A recent study by the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State showed that San Joaquin Valley residents have a higher rate of being overweight or obese than the state average. About 65 percent of Central Valley adults are overweight or obese vs. 56.2 percent of adults statewide. About 15.5 of adolescents in the Central Valley are overweight or obese compared with 14.2 percent statewide.
The Wellness Program grant is the third in recent years to Fresno State from Aetna and its philanthropic arm, the Aetna Foundation, totaling nearly $100,000 to the university to boost its efforts to increase health education to its students. A mobile wellness unit was established in 2009, and the Aetna Wellness Resource Center opened in 2007 in the Health and Psychological Services building.
“We are grateful for the ongoing partnership with Aetna to promote wellness,” said Oliaro. “Our students certainly benefit from this collaboration.”