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MSU ranks No. 3 among nation’s healthiest universities

September 27, 2011

For Starkville Daily News

Located in a state frequently ranked high for obesity and diabetes, Mississippi State University is listed highly in a report ranking the healthiest universities in the nation.
In the recent report published by Newsweek and The Daily Beast, MSU took the No. 3 healthiest college ranking, behind Harvard University and Louisiana State University. (For more, visit http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/features/college-rankings/2011/hea...).
The report says Newsweek considered five factors of the college and the student body in determining their unscientific listing, including sexual health, drug scene, physical activity, campus food, and student health care.
Mississippi State administrators say the recognition in the national report is beneficial, but they hope the real benefits of promoting healthy lifestyles within the university will manifest in long-term positive effects that can help Mississippi as a whole.
“I think we see, as part of our obligation, a university which produces graduates who live and work in Mississippi, that we help inform our students about healthy living. As they live and work in the state of Mississippi, our hope is that they will carry those healthy living patterns and begin to change the realities in the state,” said Bill Kibler, vice president for student affairs.
“Ultimately, we hope to change attitudes, and as that happens, we can change our state’s rankings and improve the reputation of the state of Mississippi to one that is more healthy,” Kibler said.
Kibler added that the university works to keep students healthy both physically and emotionally. MSU has many units which play important roles on campus in helping achieve this outcome, he said.
Laura Walling, director of Recreational Sports, has seen the university’s fitness facilities grow from an aging gym with eight pieces of cardio equipment and 10 pieces of strength equipment to in 1998 opening the Joe Frank Sanderson Center, a 150,000-square-foot, world-class recreation complex.
“When we opened the Sanderson Center, we went from the poor house to the big house, so to speak, and now we offer more than 14,000 square feet related to cardiovascular and strength training,” Walling said.
Walling said Recreational Sports offers a full array of programs that address fitness from a variety of different perspectives.
“Over the years, we’ve had a complete evolution from essentially not having much to having a wide variety of options to meet the interests on campus,” Walling said.
The John C. Longest Student Health Center is a campus hub of health information and care. Physician and director Bob Collins said a primary message to students is that the things they do now have a significant impact on their whole-life health status.
Collins said in college-age young adults, substance use and abuse is a major health issue.
“It’s not just recreational drugs such as marijuana or cocaine, but the biggest ones--tobacco and alcohol,” he said. Other health concerns are distracted driving, lack of exercise, and poor nutritional habits, he added.
The health center has specifically targeted information to benefit students and the university community, such as the Flu WATCH campaign, Collins said. Flu WATCH is an acronym that stands for Wash hands; Avoid close contact; Toss tissues; Cough into a tissue or your arm; and Hibernate (avoid others) if you are sick. Collins said the health center also holds flu vaccine clinics across campus in October and November to try to lessen the impact of the flu on campus life.
In addition to a comprehensive student health center and state-of-the art fitness facilities, the university’s Student Counseling Services, Outreach and Sexual Assault Services, and Health Education and Wellness programs all plug into a total-well-being approach by the university to meet student health needs, as well as prevent health problems from arising.
“It takes everybody working together. We want students to be informed about the healthy choices which will lead them to an optimal quality of life,” said Joyce Yates, director of Health Education and Wellness.
Yates oversees a number of programs designed to be easily accessible to students. Tobacco cessation, nutrition, stress management, sexual health, drug prevention, and wise choices about alcohol are all topics covered in year-round campus programming. While students are the targets of such programs, faculty and staff also are welcome to participate.
Director of Student Counseling Services Leigh Jensen said the university also can boast of the level of quality counseling available at no cost to students from her department.
“We really have a state-of-the-art counseling center here at MSU, in terms of the qualifications and caliber of our counselors who are available,” Jensen said.
Nine full-time clinicians including psychologists, counseling psychologists, licensed professional counselors, and licensed clinical social workers are on staff. Jensen explained that her unit expanded about a year ago, and a new psychiatrist will join the university soon.
“What we’re trying to do is provide students support to be academically and personally successful while they’re at MSU. We want to see them reach their academic and personal goals,” Jensen said.
In addition to the services designed to directly address health issues, MSU administrators recognize that promoting healthy lifestyles to students includes a broad look at the gamut of everyday student activities, including campus dining and even campus logistics.
Mississippi State University Dining Services, operated by ARAMARK, educates customers on the nutritional content of each menu item, said Jason Nall, executive director of MSU Dining.
Nall explained that meal planners and preparers believe in helping students, and all customers, proactively manage their health and wellness goals by providing a variety of healthy meal options and the information to make informed choices.
One might not expect parking services to play an essential role in the university’s approach to total health and well-being, but the addition of the campus bike-share program, along with master planning efforts to foster a pedestrian friendly core campus, have broadened the scope of staff contributing to the big picture relative to health issues.
The bike-sharing program has twice brought 100 bicycles to campus (more than 145 are currently operational). The bikes are available for anyone on campus to use on a first-come, first-served basis.
“A lot of the students just like the convenience of it,” said Mike Harris, director of Parking Operations, adding that he has seen a huge increase of cyclists on campus. Registration for personal bikes on campus is free, and administrators say the health benefits of bikes are in addition to the benefits to the university’s transportation demand management system.
For more information about Mississippi State University, see www.msstate.edu.

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