With the support of the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, ASU provost Elizabeth D. Phillips has launched an initiative to create a healthier ASU campus. As a prerequisite to intervention, Obesity Solutions performed a University Health Needs Assessment to evaluate student experiences and self-reported needs.
The project was spearheaded by Alexandra Brewis Slade and Deborah Williams, and put together by Global Health Master’s student Kirin Goff along with the help of a large team of student researchers. Because students provide a perspective about their lives that administrators cannot obtain without their input, the primary method of data collection was student focus groups. The researchers asked students about their (1) health priorities, (2) supports and limits to a healthy lifestyle at ASU, and (3) changes they would like to see on campus.
(1) Health Priorities
Almost all of the students identified diet and exercise as primary health priorities, and about half prioritized mental health and sleep. Students emphasized a relationship between lifestyle and productivity. While sleep was generally agreed upon as the factor most important for productivity, few students reported that they slept an adequate amount. Students also expressed frustration with schedules that often forced them to choose between health priorities because they were crunched for time.
(2) Health Supports and Barriers
When asked about sources of supports, students talked about social factors, such as positive peer pressure and having companions for healthy activities (such as exercise). They also discussed adequate transportation and convenient locations as being key to healthy behaviors; for example, proximity to food venues and gyms. Students also enjoyed physically active forms of transportation, such as walking. Respondents appreciated health education and promotion, from nutrition education in elementary school to health-promoting events and posters at ASU. Other supports included financial security (income from parents, scholarships, etc.) as well as low cost options for healthy food and activity. Though students appreciated that the on-campus fitness center is available to them without additional cost, they had little positive feedback about the food on campus.
With regard to barriers, students largely discussed monetary constraints, mostly centering on the high prices of healthy food in comparison to unhealthy food, though students also lamented high tuition rates and the cost of healthcare, parking, and exercise classes. Another barrier for students was time limitations. With heavy course loads, part time jobs, and other obligations, students often felt there was little time left over for health activities. Additionally, students felt that access to transportation and the location of health resources could represent a barrier to their use. Finally, in contrast to positive social influences, negative social influences were a barrier to healthy behavior: factors included friends or family who modeled unhealthy behaviors, exacerbated temptation, or verbally persuaded students to neglect health.
(3) Changes on Campus
Overall, students provided a wide variety of suggestions for changes on campus, which encompassed three main areas: food, activity, and awareness of resources. With regard to food, students would like to see a wider variety of healthy options on campus for an affordable price. They suggested expanding the on-campus grocery and farmer’s market, providing more vegetarian options in dining halls, displaying healthy foods more prominently, and outfitting student lounges with kitchen equipment.
To encourage more activity, students suggested that the university provide students with more outdoor gathering places with furniture and landscaping as well as offer free exercise classes for students.
Finally, many students noted that they are unaware of a lot of the health services provided by the university. ASU provides a variety of useful resources, but students don’t know they exist. Participants warned that they no longer pay attention to flyers and emails, and recommended personalized web resources to link students with services.