Academic journal article College Student Journal

Health and Health Care Issues among Upper-Level College Students and Relationships to Age, Race, Gender, and Living Arrangements

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Health and Health Care Issues among Upper-Level College Students and Relationships to Age, Race, Gender, and Living Arrangements

Article excerpt

Introduction

Health plays a significant role in how well students perform in the classroom (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2013b; Silverman, Underhile, & Keeling, 2008). Unhealthy students can have problems resulting in missed classes and lower grades. As a result, universities may be faced with poorer student academic performance, and associated lower retention and graduation rates. These rates have become increasingly important for American colleges and universities (Mustafa, 2015; Roberts & Styron, 2010). As summarized by Tinto (2007, p. 2), "... as the environment for higher education has changed from one of plenty to one of diminishing resources, there has also been a heightened focus on the part of institutions and states alike on increasing the rate at which students persist and graduate from both two- and four-year colleges and universities." University officials are challenged with addressing health problems that threaten the academic achievement of their students (Trockel, Barnes, & Egget, 2000). For students to thrive, it is imperative that college and university personnel know which health issues impact students so that they may develop strategies to reduce those issues.

Health Issues Among College Students

A variety of health and health-related issues have been identified among college students, including those related to diet, sleep patterns, sexual behaviors, and access to health care. In the United States of America (U.S.), four of the top ten leading causes of death are linked to diet (coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke) (Hendricks & Herbold, 1998; National Center for Health Statistics, 2013). Poor nutritional habits among college students (e.g., food choices, failure to eat breakfast, frequency of fast food consumption) are well documented. For example, the American College Health Association (ACHA, 2015a) stated that most college students reported eating two or fewer servings of fruits and vegetables per day. While substantial research has studied how food affects the body, the relationship between nutritional habits and academic performance in college students is less established (Trockel et al., 2000; ACHA, 2015a).

The sexual health of the college-aged population continues to be a major focus of public health officials (Scholly, Katz, Gascoigne, & Hoick, 2005). University students often engage in risky sexual behavior, such as having unprotected sex or using unreliable contraceptive methods, which can lead to negative consequences impacting academic performance (Grace, 1997; Hightow et al., 2005; Lechner, Garcia, Frerich, Lust, & Eisenberg, 2013; Scholly et al., 2005). In 2012, over half of reported pregnancy terminations in the U.S. were among women aged 20-29 (CDC, 2015). The Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) Core Institute (2016) administered a survey to college students across the nation, and reported that 82.5% regularly engaged in unprotected sexual activity with multiple partners. In addition, it is estimated that 50% of all new HIV infections occur in individuals below the age of 25 (Hightow et al., 2005). According to the ACHA (2015a), only 47.8% of students who had sexual intercourse in the past 30 days used contraception.

Heavy alcohol consumption is a constant threat to the well-being of college students. College-aged individuals report high levels of "binge drinking" (Grucza, Norberg, & Bierut, 2009; Hingson, Heeren, Zakocs, Kapstein, & Wechsler, 2002; Nelson, Naimi, Brewer, & Webster, 2005; Pascarella et al., 2007). The ACHA (2015a) reported that almost half of the college students surveyed used alcohol 1-9 days in the last 30 days, with 23.1% admitting to driving after alcohol consumption. In addition, one-third of surveyed participants admitted to doing something they later regretted, and 13% admitted to physically injuring themselves or another person after drinking. …

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