Social media boosts student health awareness at UF

  Nov 20   News

You’ll constantly find people running at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, waiting in long lines at Southwest Recreation Center or taking a group fitness class at Student Recreation and Fitness Center.

Health conscious restaurants are popping up everywhere, and ‘fitspos’ are crowding social media.

Is it a fad, or are the students of the University of Florida going on a permanent health kick?

Jessie Furman, nutrition coordinator for UF’s department of Recreational Sports, is the sole staff member of nutrition services. She is in charge of nutrition counseling for students and staff.

Although the program is fairly new, completing its first full year in 2018, it has become a huge tool for students with health and fitness goals.

Furman has been targeting the UF student body through social media outlets such as Instagram and Snapchat with her meal preparation videos, emphasizing nutrition education while also teaching students college-friendly recipes.

 “(Social media) tends to be one of my ways I can engage with a broader population and get feedback,” Furman said.

“I’ve noticed a shift over the past 10 years,” she said. “I haven’t been working in nutrition services for all of those years, but overall, with my knowledge of college students, there’s been a shift towards more intentional nutrition and health choices.”

Social media is becoming a huge platform for students to post their goals, create fitness pages and to share their new lifestyle with followers. Furman shared her hesitation about the rise in health consciousness on social media platforms.

“Technology and social media plays a huge role in my opinion,” she said. “It’s not always in a positive way because we have ‘insta stars’ and ‘fitness quote unquote experts’ that misrepresent who they are, what they can do and what they can suggest for others.”

Furman explains, from a nutritionist standpoint, that this could be dangerous for students because what is working for one person may not be the best option for another person.

“What I’ve noticed is there’s a persistency of disordered eating behaviors and those being higher triggers for people who follow a lot of social media particularly with the ‘fitspo’ accounts,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily influence them in a positive way, so I think there is definitely a greater trend but it’s not all positive.”

As a professional in nutrition, she hopes to help students reach their goals safely.

“That’s some of my nutrition counseling, which is debunking myths. A lot of my clients come in with weight loss goals in mind, which is not uncommon,” she said. “Of those individuals who come in with weight loss goals a big majority of them have some sort of disordered eating behaviors.”

Her nutrition philosophy is helping them get rid of any disordered eating behaviors to bring them back to a healthy place mentally and physically, she said.

Leah Shelley, assistant director for fitness programs at RecSports, oversees all components of the fitness department.

Shelley explained that it is hard to track how much attendance is increasing. However, she has seen a shift in overall involvement from the student body while working at the recreation centers.

“In the beginning of each semester, particularly fall and spring, we see this huge increase in services and people asking for services and also participation,” Shelley said. “It’s kind of challenging to give you an accurate representation of that because I would say probably even five years ago we weren’t tracking in the way we are now, so it looks like our numbers are going up.”

She explained that she believes social media has impacted the UF society.

“I think there definitely is the social culture online about health and wellness and I think that can definitely percolate to everybody’s everyday life when you see other people having a physically active life and a well-balanced life,” she said. “I think there’s something in that and can appear motivating and make people want to be like these influencers that they see online.”

Shelley worked at a school in Michigan before coming to UF where the students were not as willing to engage in involvement or in the health and wellness opportunities the school provided.

She emphasized that this involvement is partly due to the University of Florida’s highly active student body.

“I also think, I hope, that people understand that being the best doesn’t necessarily mean working harder,” she said. “It can mean studying more and getting more involved in internships, but it also means taking better care of ourselves so we are better able to produce better results for the future.”

Shelley said she thinks there’s a sort of messaging that’s going out about the impact of taking care of yourself before you can take care of others. She said she thinks it will help to advance society forward.

Antonella Valencia, University of Florida athletic training major and certified personal trainer, uses social media for her personal training business, AV Lifestyle & Fitness, here at UF.

She works one-on-one with a variety of clients, many being students at UF, creating custom nutrition plans and workouts to help people reach fitness goals.

"It’s been two years now since I started my own business,” Valencia said. “I specialize mainly in lifestyle changes."

She emphasized her excitement for the opportunities and outlets UF has for students when starting their journey into this lifestyle change.

“People are so much more motivated than I’ve ever seen before and it’s awesome to see from my end as a trainer,” she said. “The school itself provides a lot of awesome opportunities, like our memberships to the gyms and these fitness classes.”

She said she likes that there are so many free options and exciting nutritional studies open to UF students. 

“All these great things for us to take advantage of, and I think they make it very easy and accessible for students to live a healthy lifestyle,” Valencia said.

Valencia uses social media as her main way to reach clients.

“I’m not a fan of exploiting yourself,” she said. “I don’t think that really embodies what fitness is, and fitness looks so different for everyone.”

She hopes to make sure her follower base is getting the information they need to reach their goals.

“I know a lot of people become Instagram famous and get a lot of clients and followers, but I try to make up for that by posting informational things that people will want to read and apply to their life,” she said. “I’m more into the functional fitness, so I don’t want to post pictures of myself like ‘oh guys look at me’ I just don’t want that to be my business model.”

Valencia explains that with this fitness trend there has been an enormous amount of fad diets and unattainable ideas being portrayed on social media.

“I think it’s a great thing, but I also think people need to be careful who they idolize,” she said.

She still embraces the health trend as many UF students are.

“You only have one body so you have to take care of it.”

-Contributed by Aynsley Fanizzi