Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Healthy Universities: A Guiding Framework for Universities to Examine the Distinctive Health Needs of Its Own Student Population

Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Healthy Universities: A Guiding Framework for Universities to Examine the Distinctive Health Needs of Its Own Student Population

Article excerpt


Healthy universities as settings for student health and wellbeing

The concept of using a settings approach to improve health was first mentioned in the Ottawa Charter.[1] This Charter describes the pivotal role that the settings approach has in shaping positive health outcomes for people and populations. The settings approach reflects an ecological model of health promotion that recognises that health is a complex interaction between environmental, organisational and personal issues.[2] It involves a holistic view of health by creating supportive contexts within the places that people live their everyday lives.[3] Wellbeing is, like health, a contested concept, but is one that is closely entwined with the concept of health. Its two perspectives, hedonic wellbeing and eudaimonic wellbeing,[4] are reflected in this ecological model of supportive environments. This whole systems approach to health and wellbeing enables connections between people, their environments and behaviours to be explored.[5] In the context of a Healthy University, the whole systems approach is characterised by three overarching aims:

Creating healthy, supportive and sustainable learning, working and living environments for students, staff and visitors;

Increasing the profile of health and sustainability in the university's core business - its learning, research and knowledge exchange;

Connecting with and contributing to the health, wellbeing and sustainability of the wider community.[6]

The underlying principle of settings for health is that investments in health are made within social systems in which health is not necessarily the main remit, for example, higher education.[2] With more than 2.3 million students and 370,000 staff,[7],[8] the United Kingdom universities are ideal settings for understanding and addressing health issues. Universities are settings that could adopt a whole system perspective, aiming to make places within which people learn, live, work and play, supportive to health and wellbeing; that is, a Healthy University.[9] The concept of a Healthy University in the United Kingdom builds upon the success of other settings such as Healthy Schools and Healthy Cities. Encouraging universities to become healthier settings is gaining impetus at regional, national and international levels. The call to action of the Okanagan Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges is that health promotion be infused into the everyday operations, business practice and academic mandates within the university.[10]

The ideology of a health promoting university facilitates achieving higher education institution (HEI) priorities, for example, the student experience. It also has the potential to contribute to the pursuit of major UK Government agendas on population health, young people and health, obesity, health-related behaviours, climate and environmental issues.[11],[12] The UK Healthy Universities Network Self-Review Toolkit[13] was used to identify the health-promoting activities within one urban UK university. The self-review identified that the student voice was not sufficiently captured for future meaningful action planning for the university's health promotion activities, in order to create a healthy and supportive environment for its students. This prompted a study of the health behaviours and health needs of the university student population. This understanding can inform the planning of future health promoting university initiatives, inform local health care services and contribute to the universities' development of a whole systems approach. The student health and wellbeing behaviour survey reported here has a particular focus on engaging student views and health behaviours that had not been completed previously. This article presents a summary of key findings from this survey. …

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