A black belt in health
program equips students to
promote healthful behavior
Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing.
Like when a student who makes smart food choices, exercises regularly, manages time well, and engages in other healthful behaviors influences his or her friends to do the same.
That’s the basic idea behind Health Ninjas, a peer-mentoring program for undergraduate students. The program is run by Health Iowa, the health promotion and education branch of UI Student Health Service.
“Students can play a large part in helping each other practice healthful behaviors,” says Beth Ripperger, coordinator of Health Ninjas. “And they do it without lecturing, without being confrontational. It just happens in everyday conversation and interactions.”
There are currently about 45 students in the program. Each month, they receive resources and information about a selected health topic, from nutrition to environmental wellness to stress management. Then they head back out onto campus and share what they’ve learned with others.
“I ended up correcting a lot of myths surrounding things like nutrition and drinking,” says Kelsey Peasley, who was a health ninja for a year before graduating with a B.A. in health and human physiology in December 2011.
This fall, the ninjas also started a “healthy is hot” campaign, and handed out slap bracelets adorned with that slogan when they saw people practicing healthful behaviors in the community.
To become a health ninja, a student must first be nominated. Most nominations come from other students, but the program occasionally receives nominations from a faculty or staff member, or even a parent. The program attracts a lot of students studying the health sciences, but health ninjas can come from any major.
The program began in 2007 as a graduate student project in what is now the higher education and student affairs program in the College of Education.
“The idea was to work with a group of students who make good decisions and are information-givers and trendsetters on campus,” says Tina Arthur, who was one of the dozen students in the class that developed the program, and is now the university’s assistant director of Orientation Services.
And the name? That came out of the class, too.
“We didn’t want to call them peer mentors, we just wanted a name that was cool and had some mystery behind it, a name that would catch student’s attention in a positive and fun way.”
Learn more about Health Ninjas, or nominate a student for the program, at studenthealth.uiowa.edu/wellness/health-ninjas.