Peer Review, Spring 2000

Spring 
2000, 
Vol. 2, 
No. 3
Peer Review

The Health of Our Students: What Do We Know?

For those who want to keep up with the latest epidemiological data in higher education, key resources include the Journal of American College Health and the Journal of College Counseling, though a variety of other medical journals also publish articles on a wide range of topics in student health. The easiest way to search these journals is to use the MEDLINE database, which is managed by the National Library of Medicine and is freely accessible through the PubMed Web site (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez).

For those interested in broad student health trends, the best available data comes from the National College Health Risk Behavior Survey of 1995, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and available through the National Center for Health Statistics (www.cdc.gov/nchs).

Also of note is the Harvard School of Public Health's ongoing College Alcohol Study, with data from 1993, 1997, and 1999 (archive.hsph.harvard.edu/cas); the Core Institute (www.siu.edu/departments/coreinst/public_html), which compiles statistics on alcohol and other drug use on campus; and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Monitoring the Future database (www.monitoringthefuture.org).

Finally, UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute (www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri) conducts an annual Freshman Survey, which includes items on student drinking, tobacco use, and levels of stress.

Excerpts from the 1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey:

Suicide

  • Nationwide, 10.3% of college students had seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months preceding the survey.
  • Nationwide, 6.7% of college students had made a specific plan to attempt suicide during the 12 months preceding the survey.
  • During the 12 months preceding the survey, 1.5% of college students nationwide had attempted suicide and 0.4% of college students had made a suicide attempt that resulted in an injury, poisoning, or overdose that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse.

Vehicle Safety

  • During the 30 days preceding the survey, more than one third (35.1%) of college students nationwide had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
  • Nationwide, 76.8% of college students had gone boating or swimming during the12 months preceding the survey. Overall, 30.5% of these students had drunk alcohol when boating or swimming.
  • Nationwide, 10.2% of college students rarely or never used safety belts when riding in a car driven by someone else.
  • Nationwide, 96.3% of college students had driven a car. Of those students who had driven a car, 9.2% rarely or never used safety belts when driving a car.

Weapons

  • Nationwide, 8% of college students had carried a weapon (e.g., a gun, knife, or club) during the 30 days preceding the survey for non-work-related reasons.

Sexual Abuse

  • Nationwide, 13.1% of college students reported that they had been forced to have sexual intercourse against their will during their lifetime.
  • Female students (20.4%) were significantly more likely than male students (3.9%) to report they had ever been forced to have sexual intercourse.
  • Nationwide, 3.6% of college students reported that the first time they had been forced to have sexual intercourse occurred at age >19 years. Female students (5.8%) were significantly more likely than male students (0.8%) to report first being forced to have sexual intercourse at age >19 years.

Violence

  • Nationwide, 10.2% of college students had been in a physical fight during the 12 months preceding the survey. Male students (14.2%) were significantly more likely than female students (7.0%) to have been in a physical fight.

Tobacco

  • More than one fourth (29%) of college students nationwide had smoked cigarettes on more than one of the 30 days preceding the survey.
  • Nationwide, among college students who smoked cigarettes during the 30 days preceding the survey, 34.0% smoked more than 11 cigarettes per day.
  • Nationwide, 5.4% of college students had used smokeless tobacco during the 30 days preceding the survey. Male students (11.7%) were significantly more likely than female students (0.3%) to report current smokeless-tobacco use.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

  • More than one third (34.5%) of college students nationwide had had five or more drinks of alcohol on at least one occasion during the 30 days preceding the survey. Male students (43.8%) were significantly more likely than female students (27.0%) to report current episodic heavy drinking.
  • During the 30 days preceding the survey, 9.4% of college students had used any illegal drug in combination with drinking alcohol. Male students (12.6%) were significantly more likely than female students (6.8%) to report current combined illegal drug and alcohol use.
  • Nationwide, 4.2% of college students had drunk alcohol on more than 20 of the 30 days pre-ceding the survey.

Sexual Behavior

  • Nationwide, 62.4% of college students reported having had sexual intercourse during the 30 days preceding the survey.
  • Nationwide, among currently sexually active college students, 79.8% reported that either they or their partner had used contraception (e.g., birth control pills, condoms, withdrawal, or some other method) to prevent pregnancy the last time they had sexual intercourse.
  • Among currently sexually active college students nationwide, 29.6% reported that either they or their partner had used a condom during last sexual intercourse.
  • Among recently sexually active college students nationwide, 27.9% reported that either they or their partner used a condom always or most of the time.
  • Nationwide, among recently sexually active college students, 16.6% reported they had drunk alcohol or used drugs at last sexual intercourse.
  • Nationwide, 35.1% of college students reported that they had been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant.

Exercise

  • More than one third (37.6%) of college students nationwide had participated in activities that had made them sweat and breathe hard for at least 20 minutes on at least 3 of the 7 days preceding the survey.

Body Image & Weight Loss

  • Nationwide, 20.5% of college students were classified as being overweight based on body mass index calculations.
  • Nationwide, 41.6% of college students believed themselves to be overweight. Female students (48.8%) were significantly more likely than male students (32.4%) to perceive themselves as overweight.
  • Nationwide, 46.4% of college students were attempting weight loss at the time of the survey. Female students (59.8%) were significantly more likely than male students (29.6%) to be attempting weight loss.
  • Almost one third (30.8%) of colege students nationwide had dieted either to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight during the 30 days preceding the survey. Female students (42.1%) were significantly more likely than male students (16.7%) to have dieted to lose weight.
  • Nationwide, 2.6% of college students had either vomited or taken laxatives to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight during the 30 days preceding the survey. Female students (4.2%) were significantly more likely than male students (0.6%) to have either vomited or taken laxatives to lose weight or keep from gaining weight. Examination of subgroups by sex indicated a significant race/ethnicity difference among white (4.4%) and black (1.7%) female students.
  • Nationwide, 4.3% of college students had taken diet pills either to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight during the 30 days preceding the survey. Female students (7.0%) were significantly more likely than male students (1.1%) to have taken diet pills to either lose weight or keep from gaining weight.

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