Bucking dismal health trends in the Buckeye State, Kent State University Geauga formed the Wellness Student Organization during fall semester 2018. This initiative stemmed from the “Kent State of Wellness” (KSoW), a university-wide effort to promote eight key areas of wellness: alcohol and other drug use, mental health, nutrition, physical activity, preventive care, safety, sexual health, and smoking and tobacco use.
Now is the time to stem the tide on Ohio’s poor health rankings, and Kent State University is a perfect place to start a wellness revolution. In fact, “the Wellness Student Organization aligns with Kent State’s goal and vision to become one of, if not the healthiest campus community in the country,” says Valerie Rutherford MSW, LISW-S, Kent State Geauga’s Mental Health Counselor and co-advisor to the organization.
“College campuses are a place where students go to self-improve and learn, so focusing on health and wellness makes sense. The habits students form while in college can follow them throughout life. We want to teach and promote healthy habits that students can take with them.”
Statistics verify that the need for wellness in Ohio is urgent. The state was ranked 40th among 50 overall in 2018 by the United Health Foundation in America’s Health Rankings. A contributing factor is Ohio’s sixth-worst youth obesity rate in the U.S., leading to correlating rises in diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and other preventable chronic conditions.
Meanwhile, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Ohio ranks among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths… more than double the national average in 2016. Beyond that, Ohio deaths from drugs, suicide and alcohol combined are projected to climb 47 percent by 2025, according to a recent report: “Pain in the Nation: The Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Epidemics and the Need for a National Resilience Strategy.”
To reverse this cascade of startling health trends, a serious paradigm shift must be made, starting with making healthy personal choices. The Wellness Student Organization encourages this by planning, promoting, and implementing wellness events across the Kent State Geauga campus that relate to one or more of the eight key areas of concern.
Already, the group sponsored a “Fall Into Wellness Day” last semester, featuring several stations where students could infuse Play-Doh with essential oils (for stress relief), gather information about wellness services offered on campus (mental health counseling and the student wellness club), enjoy free healthy snacks (granola bars and yogurt), accept give-a-ways and information about memberships and yoga classes at Geauga YMCA, and watch a healthy cooking demonstration of a quinoa salad with roasted vegetables by Chef Stefanie Paganini of ICASI.
The health problems affecting Ohioans are common throughout the U.S., which compares poorly to other high-income countries. “Mounds of research point to the unhealthy lifestyle choices Americans engage in, such as the poor eating habits, lack of physical activity, drug and alcohol use, and smoking/tobacco use among other things,” Rutherford says.
“Americans in general report more emotional distress than their counterparts in other countries do, as well. Teaching young adults about the importance of health and wellness, both physical and mental, is important in order to inspire change and move the nation toward healthier outcomes. Young people tend to be influenced by their peers, therefore students seeing their peers promote topics like healthy nutrition, physical fitness and the importance of mental health wellness can have positive outcomes.”
For this reason, organizational leadership comes from the student body; not only from adult advisors. Students Magaly Rios, Sarah Brugmann and Shelby Fisher serve as officers in the wellness organization. Additional students are being recruited to get involved and offer input. Rae Ann Byers, Kent State Geauga’s Wellness Ambassador, co-advises the student organization with Rutherford.
The Wellness Student Organization benefits the Geauga campus by promoting healthy living, healthy habits and general wellness… not only among students, but also among faculty and staff. Then wellness benefits are designed to spill out from campus and into the community at large.
One goal is to include the greater Geauga community in wellness events held on campus, Rutherford explains. Kent State Geauga and the Regional Academic Center recently formed partnerships with the Twinsburg Recreation Center and the Geauga YMCA. This will engage them in wellness events on campus, and in turn, will draw students into the community for health and wellness activities off campus. Such collaborations are mutually beneficial for the community as well as for students on campus. (See "Community Fitness Centers Make Exercise Convenient, Free, and Fun for KSU Staff and Students.")
Until now, Kent State Geauga did not have a student group dedicated to improving wellness among its peers. The Wellness Student Organization is filling that void with a calendar full of enticing events, starting with hosting a healthy breakfast during Spring Welcome Week, promoting the importance of making healthy breakfast choices every morning. Look for fresh opportunities to pursue wellness as spring semester ensues. Wellness is within reach!