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A Picture of Health


By Mary Daily, Photos by Angie Smith

Published Oct 1, 2014 8:00 AM

A groundbreaking, multidisciplinary effort aims to make UCLA the healthiest campus anywhere.


When Jane Semel was 23, she was sick in a hospital, she recalls, when “a doctor came into my room and said, ‘Something in your life is making you unhappy, and you need to get rid of it. We will help with medication.’

Global Food Initiative

Inspired by UCLA’s HCI, all 10 University of California campuses have adopted the Global Food Initiative (GFI), addressing worldwide challenges related to food. The chancellors’ commitment to the GFI was announced by UC President Janet Napolitano and Berkeley chef Alice Waters, an advocate of edible K-12 schoolyards.


“I did end an unhealthy relationship,” she says, “but the drugs made me sick. Another doctor told me to stop the drugs and stay on a healthy diet for 18 months to heal my body.

“It worked. I was happy to be well again and felt so lucky that these brilliant, evolved doctors had come into my life. I now believe that a healthy body and a healthy mind are key to a healthy, longer life.”

Today, many years later, Semel is reaching thousands with that message. It is her vision that is behind UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative (HCI), which is funded by the Semel Foundation. Officially launched in January 2013, the HCI is a campuswide effort to improve the well-being of students, staff and faculty and to make UCLA an environment that encourages a healthy lifestyle.

It was Semel’s husband, Terry, who — knowing that she wanted to influence others to develop healthy habits — proposed that she start with the UCLA community. “Prove that it works in one university,” he said, “and others will follow.”

So the initiative’s goal is simple: to make UCLA the healthiest campus in the nation, a model of well-being. Five pods — Eat Well, Move Well, Breathe Well, Mind Well and Be Well — support one another and collaborate closely. Information on programs, courses and events within each pod can be found at

Pediatrician Wendelin Slusser, who is the associate vice provost over the HCI and previously headed the Eat Well pod, says that the initiative’s strategy is to “make the healthy choice the easy choice. It is building on the strengths of our UCLA community.”

The HCI has gained broad campus buy-in. Slusser says the engagement reaches into multiple disciplines, with more than 60 faculty members and administrators interested in helping to develop food studies curricula. And faculty from public health, life sciences, the arts and medicine, along with senior directors from the library, recreation and campus life, head the HCI pods.

HCI’s influence is already felt beyond campus, too. Representatives of the initiative have made presentations at national and UC systemwide meetings and offered webinars to 90 colleges and universities.

Eat Well


HCI’s food-focused pod has a large following. Most campus eateries now offer varied healthy choices, and Bruin Plate — among the nation’s first health-themed dining halls — feeds 3,000 to 4,000 people a day. More than a third of campus vending machines now present healthful foods — such as trail mix, nuts and air-popped snacks — at eye level and above, to catch the attention of hungry shoppers. “The machines with healthy options are just as successful as the ones with all the junky food,” Semel says with pride. “We learned that a lot of people don’t decide what they’re going to buy until they get to the machine. That was huge.”

The campus is also home to several edible gardens. An organic garden grows at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center, with plans to even grow vegetables between the aisles of the amphitheater there. “We want to encourage students to plant vegetables wherever they can,” says Semel, who helped students plant a medicinal herb garden outside the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “Some of them had never touched dirt or watched plants grow,” she says. “We planted herbs from different cultures and herbs connected with cancer drugs. After all, medicinal herbs were all doctors had as recently as the late 1800s.” Also at the medical center is a tranquility garden that Semel says “helps with anxiety and insomnia.” Another herb garden grows at the David Geffen School of Medicine, and yet another is planned for the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden.