Academic journal article College Student Journal

A Comprehensive Profile of Health Risk Behaviors among Students at a Small Canadian University

Academic journal article College Student Journal

A Comprehensive Profile of Health Risk Behaviors among Students at a Small Canadian University

Article excerpt

Despite recent attention to health promotion and illness prevention, young people continue to engage in a variety of risk behaviors, which may negatively influence current and future health status. The purpose of this study was to create a comprehensive profile of health risk behaviors among undergraduate students at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Two hundred ninety students completed a 104 item self-administered health risk behavior survey. Study findings indicate that students at UPEI, like other university students throughout Canada and the United States, engage in a variety of behaviors that increase their risk of serious health problems. Of particular concern are reports of specific risk behaviors relating to nutrition and weight status, episodic heavy drinking, use of condoms, and psychological distress. When a profile of risk behaviors was compiled, only 3% of students reported no risk behaviors; 88% of the students reported two or more risk behaviors; and 22%, reported 5 or more risk behaviors. The profile of risk behaviors is concerning, especially given that health behaviors established during university years are likely to continue in later life. Universities are in a unique position to implement strategies to address these risk behaviors.

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Despite recent attention to health promotion and illness prevention during the formative years, young people continue to engage in high rates of unhealthy behaviors, including many associated with a range of chronic diseases (Adlaf, Demers, & Gliksman, 2005; Dawson, Schneider, Fletcher, & Bryden, 2007). For many students, the university years represent a transition period--a time when adolescents become adults and adopt life-long behaviors that can have either a positive or negative influence on health and well-being (Dawson et al.). Many risk factors such as smoking, inadequate nutritional status, and inactivity have direct behavioral links that are amenable to interventions. Risk factor modification in young adults can enhance health and lessen the risk of chronic illnesses later in life.

Numerous American studies have examined various health-related practices and concerns in the university population (Davies et al., 2000; Dinger & Waigandt, 1997; Douglas et al., 1997; Sax, 1997; Wechsler & Kuo, 2000). The Canadian Campus Surveys, administered in 1998 (Gliksman, Demers, Adlaf, Newton-Taylor, & Schmidt, 2000) and 2004 (Adlaf et al., 2005) were conducted to address the lack of Canadian data on this population. These surveys focused primarily on alcohol and drug usage; mental health; sexual activity: victimization; and campus attitudes, beliefs, and norms; they did not address important lifestyle factors such as diet, activity, and safety.

The current study creates a comprehensive profile of health risk behaviors among the undergraduate student population at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI), Canada. It explores links between risk behaviors and respondent variables such as sex, year of study, and living arrangements. The aims of this work are to contribute to the national data regarding health risk behaviors in university students and to provide baseline data to UPEI which can be used by the institution in design and evaluation of health policies and programs.

Method

The study protocol was approved by the University of Prince Edward Island Research Ethics Board. A purposive sample was used for this study. The research team, in consultation with the Registrar's Office, selected classes that would reflect the demographics of the total student body at UPEI with regards to faculty/school and gender. First year students were over sampled because previous studies have suggested that there are specific health issues for this cohort (Gliksman, et al., 2000). Letters of explanation were sent to the faculty members who taught the selected classes to invite their participation; all faculty agreed to participate. …

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