Students, staff, community members and even an Olympic gold medalist gathered in the Event Center Monday night to promote a healthy lifestyle.
“Walk for the Health of it,” a program sponsored by Sodexo, UHS and the athletics department, featured an appearance by the most decorated American gymnast of all time, Shannon Miller, in order to advocate for healthier lifestyles on campus and in the community.
Robert Griffin, district marketing manager for Sodexo, said that walking is an important part of a maintaining health and well being.
“One of the things that we’ve been working with, with UHS Hospitals, Broome County Health Department and some other agencies, is trying to reinvigorate the BC Walks program, which was for seven or eight years, a pretty active walking initiative in the community, and I don’t want to say that it fell apart, but it wasn’t as maintained as we hoped it would be,” Griffin said. “So, we’ve been working with them to try and reinvigorate it and our hope was to be able to, along with Shannon Miller, who is a big advocate of walking programs, to create a kick-off if you will, for this reinvigorated BC Walks program.”
Students in attendance could register for BC Walks and receive a free pedometer, along with some free samples of healthy Sodexo snacks like peanut energy bars and walnut cranberry quinoa salad. Children from around the Binghamton area lined up to get a signed photo from Shannon Miller, and only a few of them started crying when they saw the Baxter the Bearcat mascot.
“We understand the value of health and wellness,” Griffin said. “We understand its importance to our customers, we understand its important to us from a social responsibility perspective, we need to take a role in promoting healthy, wellness related behaviors and walking is just one way to do that. We’re hoping it will be a fun way to get everybody out in the middle of winter when they can’t exactly go walking around the Brain without freezing to death.”
The Brain is 1.3 miles long, which is roughly 2,600 steps, so walking from class to class could get one well on their way to the 10,000-step-per-day goal.
This program is just one part of a larger initiative on the part of Sodexo and Broome County to increase student health on campus.
“We support wellness in different ways in different campuses,” said Susan Ferestien, senior director of business development with Sodexo. “Health fairs, cooking classes, all sorts of other educational events so that students understand how important it is for them to eat well to exercise and to really take care of themselves.These are the formative years, before going out into the working world and being adults that you need to form those great habits that will keep you healthy for your whole life.”
Claudia Edwards, public health director for Broome County, said the Center for Disease Control recently awarded a grant to the Broome County Health Department to look into student nutrition on campus and find ways to give Binghamton University students a healthier diet. The grant, one of only five in the country, will last for two years.
“I think that activity programs that are coming into play, I think that collaboration, for example your food service, with the Health Department on a CDC grant to look at the menus and the food content, lowering sodium, looking at reduced fat, looking at more fiber and fresh fruits, these are wonderful environmental changes,” Edwards said. “We are working with Sodexo, analyzing menus and looking at the content of foods and looking with them, and they are very open to this and very supportive, new types of recipes to bring in all these nutritional improvements that we mentioned that is recommended by the federal government.”
Despite these efforts to create a healthier lifestyle on campus, many students feel that there is more the University could be doing to cultivate wellness around Binghamton.
“[They could] make it easier for freshmen and sophomores to get into health and wellness classes,” said Mike Costello, a senior majoring in industrial assistance engineering. “You need like 100 credits the way it’s timed.”
Amy Ralbovsky, a senior majoring in biology who also attended the Walk for the Health of It event, agreed that there is more the school could be doing in regards to food services.
“I think they could re-imagine their food program so that french fries wouldn’t be a fraction of salads,” said Ralbovsky. “That would be impressive.”
However, food pricing isn’t quite so simple. According to Griffin, many aspects of the way dining hall food is priced is beyond Sodexo’s control.
“We price all of our items according to what our vendors charge us, so in terms of how the resident meal plan is structured, everything is priced at recipe cost,” Griffin said. “So whatever that recipe costs us, that’s what we have to charge the students. So anytime you have things like produce, it’s always going to be more expensive than french fries frozen out of a bag, every single time, in every operation in the country, it’s just the way the food market is.”
According to Alexa Schmidt, the registered dietitian with Sodexo, there are still ways for students to eat healthy meals while staying within their meal plans.
“There’s a lot of different options that we have, one is our NourishU station, that’s located in the Mountainview dining hall,” Schmidt said. “You can always get a well-balanced meal that’s usually under $3 for a complete meal with a protein, a grain and a vegetable. There are other items, a piece of fruit is relatively inexpensive as a quick and easy snack on the go. Veggies from the salad bar are a quick and easy snack, so there’s things you can do, you just need to identify things you are looking for, but there’s relatively inexpensive options that you can have and have a balanced meal on the meal plan.”