Becoming a Health Promoting Campus: Facilitating Student, Staff, and Faculty Success While Contributing to the Public Good
March 23, 2023

​In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2020, The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) became the first university in the United States to formally adopt the Okanagan Charter and become an internationally recognized Health Promoting University or College.

Since then, 15 more institutions have formally adopted the charter, and the US Health Promoting Campus Network (USHPCN) has grown to 165 campuses participating. Delegates from each campus attend monthly virtual meetings to learn about the Okanagan Charter and how others are using it to align multiple university goals and initiatives. Last month, UAB hosted the first in-person USHPCN Summit, convening representatives from fifty-seven institutions to discuss how to center equity while promoting well-being on campus. The event included a president’s panel featuring UAB President Ray Watts; Robyn Hannigan, president of Ursinus College; Sabah Randhawa, president of Western Washington University; and Havidán Rodríguez, president of the University at Albany.

According to the Okanagan Charter, “Health promoting universities and colleges transform the health and sustainability of our current and future societies, strengthen communities and contribute to the well-being of people, places and the planet.” It recognizes the value of higher education and the central role it plays around the globe in contributing to the public good through discovery, innovation, knowledge creation, and inspiring and educating global citizens.

The Okanagan Charter offers an aspirational framework to encourage comprehensive and campus-wide, settings and whole system approaches to create cultures of compassion, well-being, and equity. Each campus then develops its own strategic plan for how it lives out and implements health promotion.

“Adopting the charter aligns who we have always been as an institution with an internationally known framework,” Watts said in remarks to UAB News.

The charter has two calls to action: 1.)  Embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations, and academic mandates, and 2.) Lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally. It is built on the premise that we are all interconnected with our planet and all the flora, fauna, and people who reside on it.  

UAB is utilizing the framework set out in the Okanagan Charter to bring together multiple initiatives under one overarching international identity.

The university’s signature project is Live HealthSmart Alabama. The goal of Live HealthSmart Alabama is to move Alabama out of the bottom 10 states in national health rankings. To do this, the university has taken a systems and settings approach, beginning in five local Birmingham communities. They engaged multiple stakeholders, including residents and community leaders, to develop a sustainable and comprehensive plan to improve nutrition, increase physical activity, and provide preventative wellness services and education.

“What we’re doing here in Birmingham is just the beginning,” Mona Fouad, the chief executive officer of Live HealthSmart Alabama, told UAB News. “The proven initiatives that are created here could go on to change the state, region and country.”

“If we have learned one thing from this global pandemic, we have certainly learned that we cannot thrive alone, as we are all connected sharing one planet,” Rebecca Kennedy, UAB’s assistant vice president for student health and wellbeing, told ACE. “The charter reminds us what the scientific community has long understood: that health is not merely the result of individual action but is created within the settings of an individual’s everyday life. Here at UAB, we understand the systems that nurture health, and we are working with one another collaboratively to change our environments to support the health of people, places, and the planet.”

For more information on UAB’s initiative, check out the Health Promoting University website.