WSSU expert: Don’t be fooled by ‘the freshman 15’

WSSU students get active during the course Lifestyle Behaviors for a Healthy Heart, which was developed through a National Institutes of Health research grant. (September 2017 file photo)

Everyone has heard about “the freshman 15.” However, a Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) researcher is hoping to expose the myth and help college students avoid the weight-gain trap.

“Everybody’s pushing ‘the freshman 15,’ and they’re saying it in a way that’s believable,” says Dr. Vanessa Duren-Winfield, clinical associate professor of healthcare management and director of research for the School of Health Sciences at WSSU. “We’re trying to dispel this myth. We want to deliver a different message.”

In 2016, Drs. Vanessa Duren-Winfield and Amanda Price (principal investigators) created an evidence-based research course, Lifestyle Behaviors for a Healthy Heart, that introduces WSSU students to the fundamentals of cardiovascular health, wellness, fitness and healthy lifestyle behaviors. The unique course was developed through a $351,185 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center on Minority Health and Disparities, and will be offered for a third time this fall to about 30 students, mostly freshmen. It's part of an initiative at WSSU called Rams Have Heart

Dr. Vanessa Duren-Winfield

During the course, students complete three health assessments that include blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and a lipid profile. The assessments are performed in intervals; one at the beginning of the course, another near the end of the course and a third in the spring semester. The overarching cardiovascular prevention goals entail promoting healthy eating, increased physical activity patterns, and lower BMI. Students enrolled in the course are compared with a control group of students who didn’t take the course but were enrolled in a basic health education course.

“We believe an important population to reach is young adults who are at a critical juncture in their lives,” Duren-Winfield said. “African American college students are an understudied population with substantial risk for obesity and metabolic dysfunctions. This course translates to their homes, as students take what they learn home with family members.”

Duren-Winfield also is taking her research directly to WSSU freshmen through a health and wellness session during Ramdition, the weeklong orientation that starts on Sunday, Aug. 12.

She offers these heart health tips for freshmen:

  • Get a workout buddy: Just like a study buddy can help improve grades, a workout buddy can offer support and motivate you to eat less and move more.
  • Stay active: At minimum, exercise for 30 minutes at least five times per week.
  • Stay hydrated: Avoid soft drinks; choose water as an alternative.
  • Reduce stress: The first year can be difficult. Make an effort to maintain a good stress level.
  • Choose healthy activities: Include healthy activities in your social life vs. eating pizza and watching movies.
  • Make smart food choices: Learn how to make wise food choices, and develop a support system to help you.
  • There’s an app for that: Students in the WSSU course benefited from downloading a smartphone app “Rams Have Heart” to provide them with reminders to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables and physical activity. There are hundreds of apps out there that can help. 

For media interviews, please contact Jay Davis, director of media relations, at 336-750-3152.

About Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.

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