An Association between College Students' Health Promotion Practices and Perceived Stress

Article excerpt

Purpose: This study was undertaken to gain a better understanding of health promotion practices among college students and the relationship of stress and the practice of various health behaviors. Method: In Fall 2008, 319 students from a mid-size university participated in a cross-sectional survey utilizing the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and the Health Promotion Lifestyle Profile II (HPLP II). Findings: This study identified a group of health-related behaviors and ways of thinking that may protect students from stress. In addition, a dose response was suggested. Specifically, lower stressed students (PSS mean = 16.96 S.D. = 4.05) were more likely than higher stressed students (PSS mean = 28.95, S.D. = 4.21) to routinely practice 14 of 52 health-promoting behaviors or ways of thinking.

Keywords: health promotion practice, health behavior, stress, college students

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College life presents a unique developmental period and a time during which many individuals adopt lasting health behavior patterns that are either associated with enhanced health status and longevity or increased long-term disease risks. By focusing on health practices initiated in college, health professionals can assist students in sustaining these behaviors over their lifetime. According to the research literature, there is unbalanced or narrowly focused attention paid to different aspects of health practices. For example, there is evidence indicating that religion and spirituality represent an understudied dimension in health-related research (Hill & Pargament, 2003). Likewise, studies tend to examine one or two practices at a time, such as exercise, dietary behaviors, or substance use, rather than address a wide range of factors that can influence health (Nguyen-Michel, Unger, Hamilton & Spruijt-Metz, 2006). Such limitations in previous research reflect a need to examine health promotion practices more holistically.

Gender plays a role in health promotion practices among college students (Cress & Lampman, 2007; Nguyen-Michel, Unger, Hamilton & Spruijt-Metz, 2006; von Bothmer & Fridlund, 2005; Ulla Diez & Perez-Fortis, 2010). However, there are inconsistent results across studies in terms of health practices of males and females. For example, von Bothmer and Fridlund (2005) reported that females had healthier habits related to alcohol consumption and nutrition, but showed no difference from males in physical activity. Ulla Diez & Perez-Fortis (2010) reported that male students engaged in physical activities, stress management, and spiritual growth activities more than females.

Stress interacts with college students' health promotion practices (Cress & Lampman, 2007; Hudd et al. 2000). Specifically, Hudd et al. (2000) reported that students with higher stress were less likely to exercise regularly and less likely to consume fruits and vegetables. Additionally, Wells and Graf (2011) found that males and females coped with stress differently. Of 16 lifestyle habits that were found to be protective, males and females shared only five.

Similar to the aforementioned observations regarding the research that focuses on the relationship between gender and health promotion practice, there is insufficient research that examines the relationship between perceived stress levels across a wide range of health practices. Though it is challenging to establish the causal relationship between perceived stress levels and health promotion practices, it is important to understand how perceived stress levels interact with multiple and concurrent health promotion practices. Increasing this understanding is important if we are to assist students in learning to manage the inevitable stress that defines their daily lives.

The present study examined the health promotion practices among college students using Health Promotion Lifestyle Profile II, an instrument that contains 52 items covering 6 cohorts or clusters of behavior. …