UC Berkeley News


Leaving no Pop-Tart unscrutinized
University Health Services work group aims to make campus snacking, dining options healthier for everyone

| 25 April 2007

Adults and children in the U.S. have become increasingly overweight and obese in the past four decades, and educating individuals to eat healthier and exercise more is only part of the solution, says Trish Ratto, manager of University Health Services' Health*Matters, the campus's wellness program for faculty and staff.

"Health professionals have been doing that for years, but at the same time we're surrounded by foods that are cheap, convenient, and high in fat and calories," she points out.

A healthful effort is afoot
Earlier this year, UC's Office of the President introduced the UC Living Well initiative, a systemwide effort to make wellness a priority, and encouraged all faculty and staff to complete a health-risk assessment (HRA). Available through individual medical plans (Blue Cross, HealthNet, PacifiCare), the confidential HRA helps individuals identify health risks and provides a plan for a healthier lifestyle. (Click here for links to each plan's HRA.)

John Swartzberg, medical chair of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter and a member of the Campus Nutrition and Physical Activity Work Group, delivered a talk, "UC Yourself Living Well," to faculty and staff this spring at a Health*Matters workshop. Swartzberg addressed the role that lifestyle behaviors play in determining health, and how the food environment and sedentary work and leisure time have led to a rise in overweight and obesity. (Click here to view an online video of the talk.)

The nation's obesity epidemic calls for leadership action from schools, worksites, and businesses, says Ratto, who is addressing the problem locally with the Campus Nutrition and Physical Activity Work Group, a cohort of 26 Berkeley faculty members, students, and service-unit representatives that is working to make healthier food options more available on campus.

Altering the food environment at Berkeley is a slow process, but the campus dining service has made notable progress, claims Ratto. Cal Dining - which estimates it serves 40 percent of the food on campus - has taken steps to eliminate trans-fats and increase accessibility to fruits and vegetables, replaced processed white foods with whole grains, and added organic-certified salad bars, she says.

The work group began by targeting other food outlets at Berkeley, starting with campus vending machines. With the help of ASUC and the Residential Student and Services Programs, 40 percent of the products now carried in many campus vending machines will meet California nutrition standards - they're lower in saturated fat, sugar, and calories than typical vending-machine fare, such as candy and chips. "There's still a ways to go," says Ratto, who calls the pretzels, Chex mix, granola bars, baked chips, and trail mix now available "healthier - not necessarily healthy."

Following the change in vending-machine options, the group set its sights on the campus's two largest athletic venues, Haas Pavilion and Memorial Stadium. The two venues recently submitted a request for proposals to potential food-service vendors that calls for including healthier choices, "a second success" for the group, says Ratto.

The group will release a set of guidelines next month to assist campus staff charged with purchasing food and beverages for meetings and special events. Next on its agenda will be a training program using Cal Dining's expertise to help the operators of other food outlets on and around campus learn how to improve food service by offering healthier options.

Ratto sees the group's victories as incremental progress toward institutionalizing accessibility for healthy eating. "We hope eventually to have a nutrition policy requiring that healthier options would be made available anywhere there's food served on campus. That's the overall objective."

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