Creating a Healthy Center Culture
A center culture that embraces health, especially with a Center Director who is supportive of the program, was found to be the most important predictor of successful nutrition and physical activity programs (Job Corps data collection). The Healthy Eating and Active LifeStyles toolkit has dedicated a section to creating this culture. The components include:
Making Healthy Eating and Exercise Part of the Center Culture
- Start by building a team of staff and students who you know will be supportive. Remember, there is strength in numbers. Note: Be sure not to only target overweight students, this can be stigmatizing. Focus on the health aspect.
- Organize a kick-off event with healthy food and activities to promote a culture of wellness.
- Allow those who are not supportive to express their opinion. Keep the information from "Garnering Support for Healthy Foods and Fitness" handy. Who knows who you may be able to persuade.
- Continue to work with students who are supportive of the program. Enlist their support advocating for healthy eating and exercise opportunities. You may be able to find some ideas in the worksheets and discussion topics in the "How Our Health Choices are Affected by the World Around Us/Advocacy" lesson plan.
- Continue to grow as new students enter the program.
- Incorporate healthy eating and exercise into your already established mechanisms, such as positive normative culture.
Assessing Center Culture
Click here for a self-assessment and planning worksheet (in MS Word format).
The Live Healthy! Club
The Live Healthy! Club (or whatever students decide to call it) is an organization run by students, for students. A member Healthy Eating and Active LifeStyles committee, or other staff advisor, should mentor students.
Purpose: The Live Healthy! Club will promote healthy eating and physical activity to staff and students. Live Healthy! Club members will serve as positive role models to others on center and will spread a positive message about physical activity and healthy eating.
Q. What is the Role of the Live Healthy! Club?
A. Whatever the student members want it to be, but here are some suggestions:
- Have a member of the Live Healthy! Club attend new student orientations. Live Healthy! Club members can buddy up with new students for exercise, walking, weight lifting, etc.
- Lead student groups. This can be anything healthy, from a walking group to a committee to bring a garden to center.
- Lead fundraising activities. A club member can find a 5K or 10K race in the area that benefits Cancer or AIDS research, or to support any other charity. They will organize a student group, research training programs, and along with a member of the recreation staff, design a training program and help other students register for the race.
- Serve as a liaison between staff and students. Club members can request new food items and recreation activities to the appropriate staff.
- Spread the word. Go into the community and teach children about the benefits of eating healthy and exercising (students will have to do a little research to get ready).
- Have Food Tasting Parties. Students may have a cooking club or a food club and give it a creative name such as "Foodies." Cooking demonstrations and hands-on instruction methods can be employed as well as taste tests. Students can also have meetings where they sample recipes from different ethnic groups or versions of American cuisine that they would not normally be exposed to such as seafood or vegetarian entrées. Students should be encouraged to find recipes for foods that they would like to share with the group.
- Organize a field day or other special event.
- Bring in relevant guest speakers or fitness instructors.
Steps to Get Started
- Recruit students who are already interested in exercise, sports, eating healthy, getting in shape, or health. Put up flyers in the recreation center, wellness center, and cafeteria. Recruit students from health occupations. Ideally, you want a group of students with diverse interests.
- Hold your first meeting. Introduce students to the group's purpose. Have each student introduce them self and talk about why they decided to come to the meeting. The group should elect a president, vice president, etc. Ask for nominees. During this meeting the group could also do an activity from this toolkit.
- Between the first and second meeting, hold elections.
- Announce the president, vice president, etc.
- At the second meeting, the president should take over group leadership. The staff advisor's role is now to work closely with the president to plan meetings and activities. The group should decide what they want to accomplish. Share the above ideas or your own ideas to get the group started.
- The club should decide on projects and responsibilities.
Maintaining the Club
- Have student members actively recruit other members, including new students and those who had not previously been interested in the subject matter.
- Maintain a positive atmosphere. Students who are disruptive or are counterproductive to the group's mission should be asked to leave.
- Hold elections every six months.
Involving the SGA
Involve the SGA in decision making every step of the way. The student government can be a powerful ally in adopting a healthy center environment. To develop this relationship:
- Invite representatives to committee meetings to help plan activities
- Ask the SGA for feedback from other students. Incorporate appropriate suggestions.
Partnering with outside organizations can provide students with services that they would otherwise go without. Consider the following partnerships Speakers and Trainers and Procuring Healthy Food.
Speakers and Trainers
- Have a dietician from a local hospital conduct an assembly on healthy food choices, with a focus on fast food choices.
- Most hospitals and health departments have a Diabetic Coordinator. Have the Diabetic Coordinator conduct individual or group educational sessions with students. He or she can provide education, brochures to students and cafeteria staff, and make referrals if needed.
- Connect with dietetics programs at local universities. In order to become a registered dietician, students must apply for a competitive internship. Many dietetics students are hungry for experience to build their resumes. Many programs also require students to complete community service in the field to graduate. Dietetics students can participate in assemblies, classroom education, and center health fairs.
- Connect with personal trainers or fitness facilities for center involvement/partnerships/sharing of services.
- Check with local hospitals for retired health personnel who are looking for volunteer opportunities to serve as guest speakers at assemblies.
Tulsa JCC partnered with local celebrity athletes for an All-Star camp. Two collegiate athletes and a professional football player conducted a motivational camp for young men at Job Corps. During this camp, students participated in team building activities, self-esteem building activities, and physical challenges.
Procuring Healthy Food
- Contact local food growers associations for donations or reduced fees to provide healthy and natural nutrition.
- Contact local farmers markets or other large local fruit and vegetable distributers for donations of ripe fruits and vegetables for student use. Partner with them to provide discounted items on a regular basis.
A local wholesale food business provides Carl D. Perkins JCC with free samples of their healthy products. The SGA and other students taste the free samples and recommend the ones they like for inclusion on the menu.
Garnering Support for Healthy Foods and Fitness
Everyone, from the Center Director to the social development coordinator, to RAs and counselors (and of course, Health and Wellness, Food Service and Recreation) play a part in this. Hopefully, your Food Service Manager is willing to offer healthy choices in the cafeteria, your recreation manager has programs that are suitable for all students, your health staff is knowledgeable, energetic and motivated, and you are truly passionate about helping students.
What if somebody is missing? Here are some talking points to get the whole center or board:
- If you have not already, talk with your Center Director (CD). He or she really can change the culture of your center. Whether you are working alone or collaborating with others on center, do not underestimate the importance of CD support. We collected data about exercise and nutrition programs on centers in 2008. Respondents that answered that their CD was supportive had better results than those who said their CD was somewhat supportive. They both had better results than programs with an unsupportive CD. (Those who said their CD was unsupportive all rated their programs unsuccessful.) To help your CD embrace healthy eating and exercise you might want to share:
- Healthy students are employable students. Research has found that overweight people are at a disadvantage during the job interviewing process. In studies using photographs, video, and prosthetic fat suits, overweight candidates were less likely to be selected for jobs when all other qualifications remained the same.1
- Employers often discriminate against obese women. Obese women make thousands of dollars less per year than their thin counterparts.2
- If students are exercising, they are not getting in trouble.
- Exercise helps mental and emotional as well as physical health. Young people who exercise are happier and experience less chronic stress than those who do not.3
- Having a strong exercise and nutrition program makes us look good during Regional Office Center Assessments (ROCAs).
- There are some options for exercise and nutrition programs that do not take a lot of time or money.
- Healthy food choices are important to any nutrition and exercise program. How are you going to get students to eat healthier if the food is not available? Talk with your center's food service manager if healthy food is not available:
- Get to the bottom of the situation. What is causing this resistance? Can you help break down the barriers? Maybe he or she needs some more information or some help. See what you can do.
- Recognize that they are doing the best they can at the moment. Food service is not an easy job. They have to balance the budget, serve students food that they do not complain about, and try to offer healthy foods. Suggest some small, easy changes like healthier snacks a few times a week, some whole grains, or a few additions to the salad bar, then move on to the larger changes. Do not be afraid to compromise.
- Be patient. In reality, you probably do not want a total overhaul this minute. Students need time to adjust to change too. One thing at a time. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Keep in mind that offering healthy choices or having a dietician available does not guarantee program success. In the data collection of weight management programs on Job Corps centers, respondents were asked to check what their cafeteria currently offers: designated healthy choices, a complete salad bar, daily or almost daily fruit selections, limited high calorie beverages, portion control, special weight management meals, and vegetarian selections. The programs that were rated least successful actually had the most offerings checked. Interestingly, the respondents who felt like they had successful healthy-lifestyles programs reported that they had a strong working relationship with their food service manager, regardless of the types of healthy offerings. What does this mean? Start with the relationship and small changes that you can agree upon. As for the dietitian, two centers reported that they had dietitians available for students. Both of those centers reported that their programs were somewhat successful.
- Guide food service managers to the Job Corps Food and Nutrition Website. Hint: There is a whole section of tips on offering healthy foods on a budget. It can be done!
- Collaborate with recreation. You probably have quite a few recreation activities available on center. There might even be activities you do not know about. Talk with your recreation supervisor:
- Ask some questions—What do we have available that appeals to young women? To young men? To novice exercisers?
- Share any requests you have heard from students. Do you keep hearing students talk about dance classes? Private recreation time for females? Share what you have heard.
- Find a connection. Do you belong to a gym or weight management program? Pass along a connection. See about bringing in a group exercise instructor once or twice a week.
- The important role of health and wellness. At your center, someone from health and wellness probably plays a role in exercise and nutrition programs. You can support them by:
- Ask what you can do to help. If you are an energetic staff person outside of health and wellness, you can take an active role in exercise and nutrition. On several centers, counselors, RAs, and even students lead groups. Wellness staff will probably be happy for your assistance.
- Share your creative ideas.
- Involve your students. Several centers have successful SGAs and student wellness committees that promote healthy decisions on center. The SGA at one center sells healthy snacks to raise money.
- If creating a healthy environment for students is not everyone's top priority, go at it alone. This is not a reason to give up. Start small. See if there is one small change for the better they can make. This can be as simple as cutting out one snack or soda each day.
Integrating Healthy Living throughout the Day
In order for your center to truly embrace a healthy lifestyle, activities can't be limited to the cafeteria, recreation, and the health and wellness center. Challenge staff and students to find ways to support health throughout the day.
- Take stretch breaks often. Bodies are not designed to sit for hours on end. Get up and move around.
- Instead of sitting at a table after eating or hanging out in the smoking pavilion, encourage staff and students to take a walk during lunch.
- Encourage staff to integrate nutrition and fitness into academics or vocations. For example, academic staff can offer students calorie-related math problems.
- Treat students to active outings, like hiking or skating, instead of pizza parties.
T-Shirts, Movie Nights, Peers, Praise, or Fun? How to Motivate Students4
If you offer healthy food in the cafeteria and recreation options galore, will students flock toward these healthy choices simply because it's the right thing to do? Does the adage "Build it and they will come?" hold true? Probably not.
Take a moment to think about something you do regularly—from dancing to watching your favorite television show. Try to remember an early experience with this activity. What motivated you to try it? How did you feel about it the first time? Why did you continue? Did anyone influence you along the way? How?
We are motivated by different things. In order from most motivating to least, we are motivated by:
- Enjoyment or fun ("I love to run.")
- Behavior is part of self identity ("I've always been a runner.")
- Behavior is part of the person's value system ("My health is important to me so I exercise regularly.")
- Ego, avoiding guilt, pride ("I feel so guilty if I don't run." or "I really like my legs. I run to keep looking good."
- External rewards and punishments ("I joined a Biggest Loser competition for a free t-shirt and chance of winning $100." or "I won't get a pass to go home this weekend unless I go to a mandatory recreation class.")
The external rewards and punishments might get someone involved in an activity, but chances are it won't keep them involved. If you feel that the promise of a t-shirt, water bottle, wrist band, or the chance to win a prize will get students involved, start there; however, these tangible incentives will rarely keep students involved.
After offering a tangible incentive, your job coaching students for a healthy lifestyle is not complete. What can move students into higher levels of motivation?
- Help students find something that's fun.
- Offer a lot of healthy choices and let students make their own decisions.
- Offer positive feedback.
- Offer recognition for a job well done.
- Help students gain confidence and get better at an activity.
- Avoid setting students up to fail. Start with easy activities.
- Be a role model. Tell students why you want to make a behavior change.
1 Puhl, R., Brownell, K.D. (2001). Bias, discrimination, and obesity. Obesity Research. 9, 788-805.
4 Ryan, R.M., Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist. 55; 68-78.
Return to top