JOURNAL ARTICLE

Health promoting behaviours and lifestyle characteristics of students at seven universities in the UK

Walid El Ansari, Christiane Stock, Jill John, Pat Deeny, Ceri Phillips, Sherrill Snelgrove, Hamed Adetunji, Xiaoling Hu, Sian Parke, Mary Stoate, Andi Mabhala
Central European Journal of Public Health 2011, 19 (4): 197-204
22432394

AIMS: University students' wellbeing and health promoting and damaging behaviours are important and comprise many parameters. The purpose of this study was to assess a range of health behaviours and lifestyle characteristics of 3,706 undergraduate students from seven universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We compared differences in these parameters between males and females, and across the participating universities.

METHODS: A self-administered questionnaire assessed socio-demographic information (e.g., gender, age), nutrition, dietary intake and food consumption patterns, as well as the importance of healthy eating, three levels of physical activity, restful sleep, tobacco smoking, use of illicit substance (recreational drugs), frequency of binge drinking and problem drinking. The data was collected in 2007-2008.

RESULTS: While females generally reported lower use of tobacco, illicit substances and alcohol (binge drinking/problem drinking) and consumed more fruits and vegetables, male students had a higher level of physical activity, consumed less sweets and had more restful sleep. When lifestyle characteristics of students were compared between the different universities we observed some 'clustering' of the parameters under study, whereby favourable health practices would be exhibited at some universities; and conversely, the clustering of less favourable practices exhibited at other participating sites.

CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that only a minority of students exhibited positive health practices above recommended levels and the level of binge drinking and problem drinking was high. This calls for increased awareness of university administrators, leaders and policy makers to the risky health habits of their students. The observed clustering effects also indicate the need for local (university-specific) health profiles as basis and guidance for relevant health promotion programmes at universities.

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