MISSOULA – After a successful first year at the University of Montana’s UC Market, the Optimal Bear Approved program run by Curry Health Center’s Wellness department is expanding to the Corner Store on campus.
Starting Monday, Jan. 25, shoppers will find Optimal Bear Approved stamps on select items in this new location on campus to support and encourage healthy eating habits.
The growth of the program, which originally began at UM in 2015, is spearheaded by Optimal Bear Coordinator Kayli Julius. It seeks to identify and promote healthy foods to students.
“I’m excited to expand the Optimal Bear Approved program to the Corner Store to reach a wider demographic of students,” Julius said. “Sometimes I think students struggle to identify healthy choices. By putting the stamp on them, I think it will really help individuals make a better choice.”
Rebecca Wade, director of staff development and environmental health at UM Dining, shares Julius’ enthusiasm about the collaboration.
“UM Dining is thrilled to partner with the Optimal Bear Approved program for several reasons. Primarily, we want to make it easy for students to identify and choose healthy options that we offer in the Corner Store,” Wade said.
Items on the OBA list include Lara Bars, Lilly’s Hummus, Honest Tea and whole fresh fruit. The products typically are all-natural, sometimes organic, include no artificial color, limited added sugar and are made with real-food ingredients.
“We try to keep it simple and easy to understand,” Julius said.
The simplicity of the program appeals to Wade, a registered dietician, as well.
“Food companies engineer their products to appeal to our most fundamental biological needs,” she said. “We are wired to seek out foods that are high in fat, sugar and sodium, so most packaged foods contain unexpectedly high amounts of sugar, fat, sodium and other additives.”
Wade also believes that it takes a fair amount of knowledge and effort to make healthy choices, not only on campus, but in everyday life.
“The items that are OBA approved, by and large, are going to be the healthiest options available – meaning students can make quality food choices quickly, saving mental and physical energy for learning,” she said.
The OBA initiative also supports clients of the Curry Health Wellness department’s Optimal Bear and Weigh to Go UM programs. Both programs help UM students set and reach goals that support healthy lifestyles. With an emphasis on preventative care and encouraging a healthy lifestyle, Wellness aims to be an easy-to-access resource for students across campus.
“We saw a trend of students who found it challenging to make healthy choices on campus so we decided to create programs to make it easier,” Julius said.
Wade also supports the one-on-one coaching that Optimal Bear and Weigh to Go UM programs provide.
“We love that the OB program utilizes student health coaches,” she said. “It offers an educational opportunity for the students managing the program as well as our student guests.”
Curry Health Center Medical Director Mary Kleschen shares the excitement of both the Wellness department and UM Dining about OBA’s success and growth. She sees the benefits of a holistic approach to health.
“Healthy food choices like that enhance student health and are good from both a medical perspective and a student-success perspective – which is exactly the kind of thing we want to help students with every day.”
For more information about the Optimal Bear program call Julius at 406-243-6719 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.