Students promote community Nutrition Habit Challenge

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State students are helping to promote an annual grassroots effort to encourage Centre County residents to incorporate healthy habits into their daily lives.

Master of Health Administration students enrolled in a marketing course have teamed up with the Nutrition Habit Challenge (NHC), an initiative launched in 2010 for the clients of One on One Fitness, co-owned by Bruce and Kym Burke, that expanded to an outreach program for all residents of Centre County.

The health care marketing class, instructed by Chris Calkins, executive director of both the residential and online Master of Health Administration programs, introduces students to the theory, concepts, skills and principles of marketing applied to health-related organizations and networks. The NHC is an opportunity for students to apply those skills in a real setting.

“For the MHA students, the opportunity to work on live projects with health organizations brings the course content to life in very tangible ways,” Calkins said. “Especially for health care leaders early in their careers, this type of engaged scholarship provides them with skills that are invaluable to their professional growth. The end result is that our organization's partners get the benefit of our students’ insight and effort, and the students benefit from the experience of engaging in the kind of service outreach that promotes health.”

Specifically, students conducted an analysis of the organization and identified niches, target markets, and other ways to promote the businesses and organizations. Students also developed a social media campaign targeted to various demographics.

“I am so happy to have had the opportunity to work with a local organization and provide meaningful work. I am so excited to see the participation this year and I hope the NHC Committee achieves the goals it has,” said MHA student Katie Spangler.

NHC co-founder Kym Burke appreciates the efforts made by Penn State students.

"Thanks to this group of talented young professionals, the NHC has an effective social media marketing plan which will undoubtedly further its mission of positively impacting the community’s health,” Burke said.

Cheryl White, executive director of Centre Volunteers in Medicine and a NHC committee member, said, “As a grassroots, all-volunteer effort, the NHC committee appreciates the hard work and expertise of these students. I know the students appreciate the résumé-building, career-enhancing opportunity. This is the kind of collaboration that epitomizes ‘Town and Gown.’”  

The Penn State community plays multiple roles in the NHC. The Student Nutrition Association, University Health Services and the Office of Human resources are also helping to promote the event.

"The Nutrition Habit Challenge is the best kind of perfect storm,” said Dennis Shea, associate dean of the College of Health and Human Development. “We connect students and the community through engaged scholarship and we help our faculty, staff, students, and everyone else in Centre County make the small changes in health habits that can change their lives for the better. It's the first step that begins the journey to a culture of health and well-being for Penn State and Happy Valley."

Following the “less is more” concept, the goal of the Challenge is to inspire Centre County families to implement small behavioral changes to create an upward spiral of constructive behaviors, such as eating healthier foods, exercising more or practicing other lifestyle improvements.

Participants register online and pledge to implement at least one healthier habit for the month of February. By doing so, participants also enter a drawing to win a trip to Disney World and other prizes. A tracking sheet and prize incentives act as tools to aid all individuals in improving their overall health. The challenge also builds a community that holds its members accountable for improving a specific healthy habit.

“The Nutrition Habit Challenge has such potential, and I believe it can truly improve the lives of others by encouraging individuals to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors,” said MHA student Priya Sharma.

In 2015, there were 2,214 participants. According to a six-month post-challenge survey, 33 percent of participants who responded maintained their habit. In 2016, the goal is to have 5,000 participants, including 500 families, and the NHC Committee hopes at least 10 percent of participants will maintain their habit after the challenge period concludes.

Additionally, participants can make donations to the nonprofit groups Centre County Youth Service Bureau and Centre Volunteers in Medicine. The goal is to raise $15,000 for the groups in 2016, compared to the $10,000 raised in 2015. 

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Last Updated January 27, 2016