It’s just a few weeks into the New Year and for many UCLA students, staff and faculty maintaining — or starting — a healthy and active lifestyle is a goal for 2018. At UCLA, which has been named the No. 1 public university in the United States by Times Higher Education, U.S. News and World Report, and the Wall Street Journal, the Healthy Campus Initiative is working to make UCLA America’s healthiest campus, too.

HCI is doing so by helping the people who live, study, work and visit campus make healthy choices the easy choices through free events, delicious food and accessible ways to get around campus. It’s also providing opportunities à la carte for students to integrate topics like life skills, food, sustainability, wellness and fitness into their studies.

Officially launched on Jan. 24, 2013, HCI — a vision of philanthropists Jane and Terry Semel, who have provided ongoing support — acts as a sparkplug for physical, emotional and social wellbeing work on and off campus, helping to identify, build and mobilize the strengths of individuals, programs, institutions and policies.

As the Healthy Campus Initiative marks its fifth anniversary, here are just some of the ways it’s working to make UCLA the healthiest college campus in the nation.


1. Music soothes the stressed-out soul

Glen Alabayan

Wouldn’t it be great to just take a midday break and leave the worries of school and work behind? If so, check out Mindful Music, which offers free live music performed by UCLA students. To date, more than 200 noon-hour concerts have been held everywhere from UCLA medical centers in Westwood and Santa Monica to the Semel Institute Auditorium, Powell Library and the law school (calendar of upcoming shows).


2. Smart snacking

Vending machine for food
Rebecca Kendall/UCLA

At UCLA we’re doing vending machines differently by providing healthier options — at eye level and marked with an EatWell sticker — in most of the machines on campus. This decision was spurred by research conducted by a UCLA doctoral student demonstrating that if given the option, people will choose healthier snacks and those choices do not negatively impact the bottom line. HCI is working with colleagues throughout the University of California system to help bring UCLA’s healthy vending model to the other nine UC campuses.


3. A breath of fresh air

Smoke-free campus sign at UCLA
Rebecca Kendall/UCLA

UCLA made history five years ago by becoming the first UC campus to go smoke-free. Student groups like the Student Wellness Commission’s Earth committee, the UCLA chapter of Colleges Against Cancer and Breathe LA @ UCLA have all come on board to support this effort. HCI has also increased opportunities for scholarship regarding tobacco control, by developing a Fiat Lux course and working with the UC to establish the UC Smoke and Tobacco-Free Student fellowship program, which provides funding for student research on a related topic.


4. Biking has never been easier

Bruin Bike Share riders in front of Royce Hall
Christelle Snow/UCLA

Not only has HCI been instrumental in every one of the “13 improvements that make UCLA a Bicycle Friendly University,” it also worked with UCLA Transportation to bring bike share to campus. There are 130 bicycles at 18 hubs across campus and Westwood Village. In its first two months, the system attracted more than 500 members. During that time, according to UCLA Transportation, riders burned approximately 233,000 calories, reduced carbon emissions by more than 2,300 kg, and traveled 5,837 miles in 7,288 trips. In addition, UCLA has installed nearly a full mile of new bike lanes around campus during the past five years.


5. Twenty is plenty

20 mph speed limit sign at UCLA
UCLA Transportation

To increase safety on campus, a 20 mph speed limit was established on UCLA roadways.  Speed reduction is crucial to enabling a better walking environment on campus, as crashes between a vehicle and pedestrian at different speeds have significantly different outcomes.


6. Taking locally sourced food to another level

Community gardens at UCLA

UCLA’s new HCI-conceived and funded jane b semel community garden, located at the Sunset Recreation Center, has a small orchard and 31 raised beds where students, staff and faculty members grow their own food in biodynamic soil. The produce grown there is eaten by members of the volunteer gardener organizations, and some is donated to the UCLA Food Closet. The Healthy Campus Initiative has also provided support for a class in urban agriculture.


7. The best college food in the country

UCLA dining hall food

For the second consecutive year, UCLA took the top spot for “Best College Food in the Nation” in a ranking. Working with UCLA Dining Services, HCI has helped develop guidelines for campus dining halls, including offering more fruits and vegetables and whole grains at each meal. When UCLA’s newest dining hall, Bruin Plate, opened in 2013, it was one of the nation’s only health-oriented dining halls. In addition, De Neve Dining Hall integrated a “flex bar” into its operation which gives plant-based ingredients the spotlight and animal-based items a supporting role.


8. Free mind and physical fitness programs

UCLA Fitwell class

Students, staff, faculty and the community can participate in free 30-minute meditation and mindfulness sessions offered at various campus locations, including Powell Library, the nursing school and UCLA’s residence halls. Sessions, which are open to beginner and experienced practitioners alike, are also held off-campus. (See full schedule). UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center also provides free mindful awareness practice classes and free guided meditations online and on iTunes. UCLA also offers free fitness programs for staff and faculty, including those focused on weight loss, stress reduction and diabetes prevention.


9. Courses and academic programs that make students food experts

Evan Kleiman and her summer class at UCLA
Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

HCI launched UCLA’s first undergraduate food studies minor in Winter 2016, followed by a new food studies graduate certificate program which graduated its first cohort in 2017. In addition to some of UCLA’s leading experts, Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s “Good Food” teaches a class about the moral ecology of food and Paula Daniels, founder of the L.A. Food Policy Council leads a course about the making of a good food system.


10. Bug banquet with Metta World Peace

Metta World Peace and UCLA student
Courtesy of Andy Rice

HCI provides opportunities for some cool experiences. Like the day when lecturer Andy Rice convinced many of the 150 students in his “Food: A Lens on Environment and Sustainability” — and former Los Angeles Lakers forward and mental health advocate Metta World Peace, who just happened to be on campus that day — to eat dried crickets as part of a lesson on sustainable food sources. People have been eating insects as part of their diets for thousands of years, including an estimated 2 billion who continue to do so. At UCLA, some described the insects as salty, while others thought it was kind of spicy. “It tastes like the end piece of bacon,” said World Peace. Mmmmm … bacon.


11. Money for student projects

Tyler Watson
Shweta Saraswat/UCLA

HCI has awarded funding to hundreds of student groups to lead sustainable projects that aim to improve the health and well-being of UCLA students. Projects range from workshops, conferences, water bottle refilling stations, constructing garden beds, events and art exhibits to projects aimed at helping off-campus students create healthy and affordable meals, assessing indoor air quality of select lecture halls, and fitness classes designed to reduce stress.


12. Increasing food security for students

Graduate student families select produce at UCLA University Village
Taya Kendall/UCLA

The University of California Global Food Initiative Food Security Workgroup, which was spurred by the success of HCI, runs a farmers’ market gleaning program that provides more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to UCLA students each month. Every Sunday throughout the year, students work with nearby farmers markets to collect donated fruits and vegetables, which are redistributed to the UCLA Food Closet, 580 Café and UCLA’s University Village Apartments. In addition, HCI has also been a key partner in the development and promotion of a campus effort to enroll eligible students in the CalFresh program, which provides students with up to $192 to spend on groceries. Roughly 500 students have registered in response to these efforts. The HCI website also keeps a list of additional resources for UCLA students who are experiencing food insecurity.


13. A new BFF for those who want to up their health game

Instant recess at UCLA

The key to the initiative’s success has been its collaboration with departments and units across campus, including the Chancellor’s Office, Staff Assembly, the Community Programs Office, Student Affairs and campus dining, transportation, recreation and housing departments. Results of these efforts include the creation of the University of California Global Food Initiative and the University of California Heathy Campus Network, both of which span all 10 UC campuses. UCLA was also one of the first campuses to sign on to become part of A Partnership for a Healthier America’s Healthier Campus Initiative, which now includes more than 50 colleges and universities across 29 states and impacts 1.3 million students staff and faculty.