REFLECTIONS ON THE PROGRESS AND POTENTIAL OF HEALTHY UNIVERSITIES

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1 REFLECTIONS ON THE PROGRESS AND POTENTIAL OF HEALTHY UNIVERSITIES Key note presentation, 2nd International Conference for Health Promoting Universities University of Alberta, October 3-6, 2005 Ilta Lange R.N. MSc Professor School of Nursing and Member of UC Saludable 1

2 First of all, I would like to thank the organizers of this conference to have invited me to give this closing key note speech. The purpose of this presentation is to make a case in favour of working together as a network, to progress in the process of transforming 3 the universities in institutions that promote health. I will use the Chilean experience to illustrate the potential of networking. For the purpose of this paper I will define 4 networking as a voluntary collaboration process used by two or more organizations, groups or individuals to reach a common goal, through information exchange. 5 Social networks have nodes which are persons, groups or organizations, which are linked to each other through communication. These networks are open, flexible and last as long as the nodes consider it useful. The members of the network are its owners and therefore they are responsible for attaining the objectives for which the network was created. 6 The central piece of the network is the linking system which has to allow timely, updated and relevant communication between the nodes. Successful networks produce quality information, synergy and promote learning. 7 This exchange process provides social support to the persons, groups or institutions which compose the network. This produces satisfaction and motivation to continue working to attain a complex goal, in our case, Health Promoting Universities. 2

3 8 All over the world, as we know, the university plays a very important role in today s society because it is a repository and generator of knowledge and at the same time, it is responsible for the education of future professionals. The students of today will be the leaders of tomorrow who should be prepared, through the health promoting university initiative, to develop skills for healthy living and to act as change agents for promoting health in their families and their future workplaces. However, to succeed, the implementation of a setting approach is essential. University authorities, students, faculty and administrative personnel have to be convinced of the importance of this social movement and actively participate in the search of successful strategies to incorporate the health promotion concept into the university culture to improve the quality of life of the university community and in the long run influence the health status of the countries population. The incorporation of health promotion into the university culture is an important and very ambitious goal as there is the generalized idea that health is an exclusive responsibility of the health sector. It is essential to recognizes that health is the responsibility of the society at large and that universities have a very important role to play in the improvement of health and quality of life, not only for the university community, but for the whole country. 3

4 Now I will refer to the networking process which has taken place in Chile which has taken us to the point we are at in developing the health promoting university movement. In 1998 the first National Plan for Health Promotion was developed in our country. The government was aware of the difficulties of implementing a national plan to promote health of the Chilean people and therefore, in 1999, invited private and public institutions at the national level to integrate an intersectoral network, chaired by the Minister of Health. This network is called Vida Chile 9 formed by 30 different social organizations, where universities are included, who have the interest of improving wellbeing and quality of life of the Chilean population. Between , the Center for Health Promotion at the University of Toronto, with a long history in health promotion and development of comprehensive programs, collaborated in this process, with the financial support of the Canadian International Development Agency. During that same time,10 the Catholic University of Chile started with the health promoting university initiative. This project has been lead by the School of Nursing, 11 with the support from our Rector, Dr. Pedro Rosso who was the former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and therefore very much aware of the broad experience of our School of Nursing in the area of selfcare and health promotion. As in Chile there was no information available regarding the life styles of university students, the first thing we did was to prepare 4

5 and apply a questionnaire to a representative sample of undergraduate students to obtain first hand information about their life styles, preferences and perceived health related needs. We wanted to initiate the project with strategies that were in concordance with the perceived needs of the students and acceptable to university authorities. The student life style questionnaire was applied in all faculties in coordination with the directors of the undergraduate programs and the support of the department of Public Health. The results showed 12 that 37% of the student population smoke, that most of the students, smokers and non smokers,13 were in favor of transforming the university into a smoke free environment. We also found out, 14 that only 64% of our students eat breakfast regularly. There are studies that show a relationship between not eating breakfast and ill health. Students recommended that healthy foods in campus cafeterias should be easily available to them at an accessible price. They also identified as a barrier for eating well, the lack of time for lunch which was still more reduced by the fact that all students and staff have lunch breaks at the same time. Negotiations have been taking place between the university administration and the food providers, to facilitate physical and financial access to a balanced lunch menu. The food choices in the different campus cafeterias are now informed to students and staff through our healthy university web page. 5

6 University authorities are looking at alternative ways to organize the class schedule structure in to reduce waiting time for lunch. This has not been an easy task. 15 The lack of physical activity is another aspect that came up in the life style survey. Students enter the university with a certain level of regular physical activity, however across the university years, they get more sedentary. As we can see, the older they get, the less exercise they do. In this case, the university authorities decided to give academic credit to sports activities and dancing, yoga and gym classes are now offered for academic and administrative staff. These examples confirm that health promotion 16 has to be part of the strategic plan of the university rather than a group of isolated and not coordinated activities. A setting approach has to be used to obtain sustainable results. The information obtained by the lifestyle survey was presented to the University Board and disseminated by the Vice Rector of Academic Affairs to Deans and Directors.however no volunteers appeared spontaneously and no feedback was received for this excellent initiative. The School of Nursing who has been leading this initiative, became aware of the need to give more visibility to this initiative and to develop a strategic plan to engage students and staff in this journey. 17 With support of the Pan American Health Organization, the National Science Fund (CONICYT), the Ministry of Health and the 6

7 University of Alberta the Catholic University hosted the first Conference of Healthy Universities, in November This was our first real networking experience. In that Conference, 29 Chilean universities were represented; about 1/3 of the universities in the country, at that time.. We also had the valuable participation of representatives of 10 foreign universities: from Latin America, United States, Canada and Spain.. Josefa Ippolito Shepherd provided important support as well as the PAHO representatives in Chile. As a highlight of this conference we had planned a Pannel of Rectors from different universities. But this was a frustrating experience for many.. the Rectors were not acquainted with the health promotion concept and its potential in the university setting. Fran Trehearn, who represented the President of the University of Alberta was key in getting the rectors to listen and to understand the value of this initiative. Retrospectively I think that this panel opened doors as it helped to socialize the health promoting university concept. Networking 18 increased at our University after the Congress: the schools of nursing, Mathematics, sociology, psychology, medicine, and communication started working together. The student federation became active and strong linkages were established with student affairs, health services, campus administration and department of infrastructure. 7

8 Through our collaborative work and also as a result of the Healthy University Conference we realized that there was not a common definition of what a health promoting university would look like; which should be its essential characteristics. 19 For this reason, the School of Nursing at the Catholic University of Chile and the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology of the University of Chile, (INTA), institutions that are part of the Vida Chile Network, are developing a manual with basic guidelines and definitions regarding health promoting universities, which might also be used in the future for self accreditation as such. This document, which is in draft form, was submitted to critique to a panel of experts in Chile in Sesptember It contains information regarding variety of strategies used in Europe and Latin America in the process of incorporating health promotion into the university culture: into institutional policies, structure, processes, environment, curricula and lifestyle of the students, academic and administrative staff. During yesterdays breakfast meeting, conference participants gave us their opinion regarding this document and recommended to use it as the bases to elaborate a Regional Guide for Health Promoting Universities. For this purpose a committee was established with participants from Chile, Colombia, Canada, Peru, Mexico and Spain who have committed to develop this guide, with support from PAHO. The goal is that this Regional guide for health promoting university can be distributed in the next Health Promoting University Conference, which will take place in Mexico in The elaboration 8

9 of this guide is considered the first networking activity of a Regional Health Promoting University Network where our colleague from Spain will be an affiliate member. The cultural change 20 to promote health within the university setting is difficult, complex and a long range goal which requires the commitment of all members of the university community, lots of energy, perseverance, skills, much enthusiasm, creativity and high capacity to tolerate frustration and ambiguity. A network would be useful from my point of view because 21: Many heads think better, than one Tasks can be distributed, coordinated and developed according to needs and expertise It will provide support, specially if things get stuck or don t work out. It will broaden our vision through sharing diverse experiences. It will produce synergy. It can help small universities and other institutions of higher education to consider this initiative. It might provide better funding opportunities I believe strongly that we can create a virtual community of highly motivated people, who understand that networking is a process of taking, as well as giving, and who work together to improve health and wellbeing of our people. Thank you 9

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