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Practice Makes Healthy

Ex-NFLer Winslow Advises Good Habits

Hanover — Early in his search for a university or a college at which to practice the gospel of wellness he’s been preaching, Kellen Winslow Sr. noticed a few things as soon as he drove onto the Dartmouth campus yesterday.

“I saw people out running — all over the place,” the Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end told an audience of about 30 students, faculty and administrators in Dartmouth Hall. “And lots of people were working out in your recreation center. I’ve gone to campuses with great facilities, and in the morning you’d look in and it’s empty. In the evening, it’s empty.”

While Dartmouth’s passion for fitness is clearly contagious, Winslow continued, the model can be harder to copy at universities that attract students who didn’t grow up in that kind of atmosphere, either at school or at home.

“A lot of it is socioeconomic,” said Winslow, who in the past five years has overseen wellness programs as part of his positions as athletic director at Ohio’s Central State University and then Wisconsin’s Lakeland College. Lower-income students of all races who, growing up in families just trying to make ends meet and can’t afford to join health clubs, tend to develop bad nutritional habits from eating fast food in neighborhoods with little access to affordable fresh vegetables and fruit.

“It’s part of being in a culture where there are no role models,” Winslow said.

Even at Dartmouth, leaders continue to fine-tune efforts to help students make good choices — sleep more, drink less or at least more responsibly — and to encourage employees to stay healthy, said dean of the college Charlotte Johnson, who invited Winslow to campus. Johnson pointed to the hiring of Dartmouth graduate Aurora Matzkin as director of the Dartmouth College Health Improvement Project.

“Our vision for wellness is very much a holistic one,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of great pieces in terms of resources, and we’ll be linking those pieces, making them part of a comprehensive program.

“Dartmouth has a culture where 25 percent of our students are athletes, and you see that reflected on campus. But there are lessons to be learned across our populations.”

Winslow, who earned a law degree after his nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers, spent time as a TV and radio analyst for college and pro football, said that he began to understand the need to teach students good health habits while working in a variety of roles at Walt Disney World, including a stint as director of sports attractions.

“With 75,000 employees, our health-care costs were just enormous,” he recalled. “I was on a committee studying how to cut down those costs, and I remember one of the other members saying, ‘My God, we need to hire healthier people.’ ”

Colleges and universities are in the best position to make their graduates more attractive to potential employers, Winslow added.

“It’s about teaching them to be competitive in a global job market,” he said. “These days you can be going into a job interview, and you’ve got a corporate recruiter asking, ‘How much are you going to cost me from a health-care perspective?’ Students go into those job interviews unaware of those questions.”

Winslow said that universities could attract increasingly scarce federal dollars by graduating healthier students at higher rates, students who are better able to repay their loans. When he finds an institution willing to follow his plan, he will institute wellness classes for which students could earn credits as “part of a requirement for graduation.”

He also envisions revamping student dining services, including the kind of “no-fry zone” he proposed at Lakeland.

“It really sends a message,” Winslow said. “It has to be campus-wide.”

After his presentation, Winslow said that while he encountered institutional resistance to such measures, he remains optimistic that universities eventually will see what corporations are already figuring out with incentives — some financial — to employees to shape up and eat better.

“If you can teach that in an academic setting,” he concluded, “I truly believe you can turn out a better graduate.”