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Anonymous online program helps students be healthier

by Jeanne Baron

Nov. 30, 2011 | WMU News

Screen shot of Bronco HealthAdvisor site.
Bronco HealthAdvisor offers self-assessments and sexual health lessons.
KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University has launched an interactive, Internet-based program that consolidates University health resources into a single location and tailors those resources based on the intent of individual students to change their health-related behaviors.

Launched as a technology research project, the Bronco HealthAdvisor was unveiled Nov. 9 during WMU's Health and Wellness Expo. It provides a secure and anonymous environment in which any WMU student can begin exploring what may become a wide range of modules.

The program is initially focusing on sexual health through spring 2012. During this pilot period, the Bronco HealthAdvisor project team will determine the program's effectiveness as a behavior-change and resource-referral system as well as its potential commercialization for use at other colleges and universities across the country.

Students using the new program will complete self-assessments and sexual health lessons on healthy communication, condom use, sexually transmitted infection testing, contraceptive use and abstinence. Virtual counselors will guide them through each lesson, making their learning a more personalized and encouraging experience.

The program employs a series of algorithms based on the Transtheoretical Stages of Change Model, a leading theory for assessing readiness to adopt healthier behaviors and for guiding people through the stages of change that culminate in adoption and maintenance of healthier behaviors.

After completing each lesson, users will receive specific information and resources that meet their individual needs. They also will be able to create a personalized account profile and save their resources, then forward those resources to friends through social media.

Bronco HealthAdvisor is the result of a two-year collaboration between two University units, the eHealth Innovations Group in the Department of Human Performance and Health Education and the Office of Health Promotion and Education in the Sindecuse Health Center.

It is an outgrowth of Internet-based behavior change systems originally developed by the eHealth team, which is spearheaded by Dr. Robert J. Bensley, a professor of human performance and health education who specializes in community health education.

Bensley and his team already have applied the eHealth Behavior Management Model to demonstration projects for managing asthma among WMU students and employees as well as a nutrition education program associated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Women, Infant and Children program that has served more than 750,000 clients since 2003.

That original technology has been adapted for Bronco HealthAdvisor using the eHealth Behavior Management Model, a stage-based approach to behavior change and management that helps users negotiate the Web to obtain tailored health information, and using accompanying Web service products created by the eHealth Innovations Group.

To ensure Bronco HealthAdvisor's relevancy in a college health setting, staff members in Sindecuse's health promotion and education office selected a health topic to focus on for the pilot phase and provided the expertise needed to develop lesson content based on the most common barriers to college students making healthy sexual choices.

In addition, undergraduate students working in Sindecuse who are nationally-certified as Sexual Health Peer Educators carefully selected resource materials for the pilot program that best fit the needs of their fellow students at WMU.

Now, Sindecuse is taking the lead in promoting Bronco HealthAdvisor by encouraging students to participate in the pilot research project by completing the first online module.

Visit to directly log into the Bronco HealthAdvisor or to access the program through the Sindecuse website.

For more information, contact Cari Robertson, WMU director of health promotion and education, at or (269) 387-3263.