Every semester since 1998, a rotating cast of University of Florida students have educated their peers on healthy-behavior change strategies at the vibrant orange and blue of GatorWell’s Health Hut that travels around campus.
GatorWell knows how intimidating figuring out college health and wellbeing resources can be. Their solution? Bringing positive health messages and activities to students.
The Health Hut is a mobile information station that pops up around campus. Specially trained students, called Wellness Educators, interact with students and hand out useful objects such as water bottles, sleep masks, sunscreen, condoms, etc. to reinforce healthy habits. These Wellness Educators are trained by GatorWell health promotion specialists to deliver information and connect students to the wellness organization that suits their needs best.
When the Health Hut began 20 years ago, its campaigns differed greatly from what is seen today. Health Promotion trends at the time featured attention-grabbing, yet technically-not-inappropriate slogans. As the field grew and research brought more insight into what it takes to change behavior, messaging through the Health Hut also changed.
Monica Webb, Program Director at GatorWell Health Promotion Services, holding one of the magnets she gave away when she was a UF student.
“Research has shown fear tactics do not lead to lasting behavior change. As the profession has grown, so has GatorWell,” said Monica Webb, Program Director at GatorWell Health Promotion Services. “Our messaging now focuses on actionable behaviors that are specific to UF students. We work to include students and their voice in all aspects of the process to ensure messaging resonates with our current student population.”
Webb should know. As a student in 2001, she served as a Wellness Educator herself.
Webb and her fellow Wellness Educators around the Health Hut in the early 2000s.
Webb standing in front of the Health Hut in 2018 as students interact with the Wellness Educators.
Since then, messaging strategies aren’t the only thing that has changed. The definition of what “healthy” is has evolved to include a greater focus on holistic health. The campaigns GatorWell plan reflect a student body that is concerned about things like mental health, sexual consent and sustainable eating habits.
Wellness Educators refer to the items they give out as “health behavior tools.” All the things the Health Hut distribute can be used to build skills that help UF students live healthier lives. During the 2017-18 academic year, the Health Hut connected with 6,952 UF students by providing information on campus services, skills and resources.
A pile of GatorWell buttons and magnets inside the GatorWell office in the J. Wayne Reitz Union. The messaging reflects the many campaigns that GatorWell runs during the academic year.
Last year the Health Hut received a technical upgrade. There’s an iPad pre-loaded with a health behaviors survey. If students take the quiz, they can receive an exclusive health behavior tool relating to the information they learned. Students visiting GatorWell’s Reitz Union office can receive the same information and help in greater depth than out at the Health Hut.
As for the Health Hut’s future, the goal is growth. Not only does GatorWell want to increase the distance of the locations it can reach on campus, but it also wants to utilize more research to create campaigns that connect with students who are traditionally missed by outreach campaigns.
One of the fliers that the Wellness Educators hand out to students. It maps out wellness services available to students on campus.
“The innovation and lasting ability of the Health Hut program has not gone unnoticed by other universities. Other institutions regularly contact GatorWell for more information on the logistics and sustainability of the Health Hut,” Webb said.
GatorWell employees associated with the Hut have submitted a presentation proposal to the American College Health Association partially in response to the amount of questions they have received about the program. Similar programs at other universities include University of Miami, University of Alabama and Georgetown.
“GatorWell is proud of the sustainability of the Health Hut program and the support it has provided UF students over the last 20 years. ‘Happy 20th birthday, Health Hut!’” Webb said.