When they sent out the initial call for participants in December, organizers of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences’ Be Orange Challenge were overwhelmed with the response. Within hours, 200 people signed up to take the health challenge.
Assistant Professor Emily Tomayko and Emily Ho, endowed director of the Moore Family Center for Whole Grains, Nutrition and Preventive Health spearheaded the challenge and associated research study. The Moore Family Center and Faculty Staff Fitness program also provided support.
Of the 200 participants who signed up, 165 attended a kick-off event in January and started the program. A total of 118 completed the six-week challenge, and 100 chose to enroll in the additional research study component. Of the 100 in the research study, 90 completed the challenge.
“We wanted to understand if this health challenge was associated with any changes in health behavior and if participating in the challenge with enhanced peer and program support had any added benefits,” says Emily Tomayko.
Participants gathered at the beginning of the study and were encouraged to be mindful of making small changes each day to better their health and well-being. Those in the research study had their measurements taken and all participants were given a resistance band, sample exercises, flossers, a salad shaker and other small health-related items. They were also treated to healthy snacks, to remind participants how easy it is to incorporate fruits, vegetables and whole grains into their diet.
“This challenge has been great,” says Robin Frojen, food pilot plant and creamery manager in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “I’m already challenging myself to all of these things, and this has given me another level of accountability. Over the past three years, I’ve quit smoking, lost 70 pounds and reversed my diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. This last year I’ve run three half marathons and two trail runs. I’m about to run my first six-hour event on April 1. I’m changing my lifestyle so that I can change my life!”
During the challenge, participants earned points daily for healthy behaviors. Rather than focusing on just diet or exercise or emphasizing weight loss, the challenge included points across multiple domains. Some of the items on the daily tracking sheet included eating breakfast, limiting alcohol, getting adequate sleep, having good oral health, participating in stress-reducing activities and limiting screen time and distracted driving.
“I approached the challenge by trying to be really honest about my actual habits and not trying to make my numbers look better,” says Natalie Smith, a data manager with Oregon GEAR UP. “I’ve added more exercise and whole grains, but I haven’t reduced unhealthy food enough. I think that and not exercising daily were my biggest challenges. I’d like to continue to use a spreadsheet like this in the future. It helps me get a picture of reality.”
To test the effects of peer support, one group of research participants was also paired with a new partner each week and encouraged to communicate regularly with each other and share experiences. Be Orange Challenge organizers also hosted a number of activities throughout the challenge, including a Friday Fun Day, covered bridge walk, Watercolor Wednesday, and Mindfulness Meditation.
“Knowing that I was tracking and scoring my food intake and other activities helped me to be more mindful of my choices – eat a halo orange for a snack instead of chips and walk from the office instead of catching the shuttle,” says Julie Van Hoosen, an office specialist with the Oregon Natural Resource Education Program. “I had better and worse weeks, but keeping a record of habits in the same categories for six weeks will help me be mindful moving forward.”
Many participants recently attended a finale event, where they were treated to a healthy meal from Café Yumm!, recognition ceremony, raffle prizes, bowling and the opportunity to meet others in the challenge. For research participants, a final study visit is scheduled for April, when researchers will share study outcomes.
“I approached the challenge primarily by focusing on not eating bad foods,” says Richard Sandler, a research program consultant in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “By just always thinking about limiting nutrient poor foods – but not entirely eliminating – I feel that I have made great progress!”
More feedback from challenge participants:
- “I have been waking up refreshed.”
- “It was a good way to be more intentional about creating healthy habits.”
- “I was more mindful about whole grains and getting my veggies in. Also, I was definitely more mindful of distracted driving.”
- “The daily walks have helped my outlook on things and seemed to make the day go quicker.”
- “I’ve lost a few pounds over the past few weeks, which has been super rewarding for my hard work.”
- “I have more energy and sleep better at night.”
- “I really worked on getting more sleep. Before starting, my average was 5-6.5 hours each night. Now my average is 7.25.”