Academic journal article VAHPERD Journal

A Comparison of Health Risk Behaviors among Virginia Tech and James Madison University Students Enrolled in a Personal Health Course

Academic journal article VAHPERD Journal

A Comparison of Health Risk Behaviors among Virginia Tech and James Madison University Students Enrolled in a Personal Health Course

Article excerpt


Research on whether health education, specifically personal health classes can affect behavior change has so far been inconclusive. In this study, a sample of students from James Madison University and Virginia Tech enrolled in personal health classes were administered the National College Health Risk Behavior Survey (NCHRBS) (Douglas et al., 1997) and the Self-Efficacy Scale (Sherer et al., 1982). These surveys provided information on the overall health risk behaviors, health behavior changes, and self-efficacy levels of the student participants. Proportionate differences and significant results were found within the descriptive and multiple regression analyses of riding in a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking alcohol, tobacco use, and dietary behaviors. However, the small effect sizes indicated that the differences between the two schools were not large. Further research is needed to determine how consistent these findings are.


Many premature deaths are due to poor individual health behavior choices, such as overeating, using tobacco products, and not participating in physical activities (Services, 2002). Some of these health behavior ideas and choices are often incorporated in the early adulthood years of life, which can affect the risk levels of chronic diseases that can occur later in life. As a result, knowing that poor individual health behavior choices can affect one's lifespan has the potential to be vitally important in preventing health problems, especially in the early adulthood years. Although major sources of health education are the health education courses offered in colleges and universities, the value of these courses is not known due to the poor documentation of health knowledge among the students taking these courses (Price & Nicholson, 1991).

Documentation of college students' health behaviors is also limited. Research has indicated that it is common for studies to focus on one or two behaviors at a time and not take a comprehensive look at overall health risk behaviors of college students. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a national survey analyzing college students' overall health risk behaviors in 1995 (Douglas et al., 1997). By analyzing college students enrolled in four and two-year institutions, Douglas et al. (1997) found that "many college students' behaviors jeopardize their current and future health status" (p. 66). The results indicated that college students showed risky behaviors when it came to the use of alcohol and tobacco, failing to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases during sexual intercourse and using contraceptives inconsistently, having poor dietary habits, and participating in physical fights (Douglas et al., 1997). Although this information is important to understanding health behaviors among young adults, it is important to note that this study was performed nearly ten years ago and health behavior trends may have changed over the years.


Measuring the health risk behaviors among the enrolled students will give the colleges and universities a better idea of current behaviors and trends among the students. Professors may therefore be better able to direct the course material to the lifestyles the students are leading in today's era. Comparing the health behavior differences among the students enrolled at James Madison University versus the students enrolled at Virginia Tech and looking at the differences in self-efficacy levels may also allow the schools to see if there are people with varied lifestyles entering into the classes, and whether the differences between the two schools are related to measures of behavior change.

Review of Selected Literature

Many factors can affect the behavior changes of students enrolled in college and university level health education courses and programs. Some of these factors include: the types of non-curriculum programs offered by the college or university (Haines & Spear, 1996; Lindsey, 1997; Lipnickey, 1998; Ramsey, Greenberg, & Hale, 1989; Schwitzer, Bergholz, Dore, & Salimi, 1998; Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, Moeykens, & Castillo, 1994; Ziemelis, Bucknam, & Elfessi, 2002), the teaching methods used to teach university and college level health education courses (Cleary & Birch, 1996; Petosa, 1984; Springer, Winzelberg, Perkins, & Taylor, 1999), and the self-ef. …

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