Big Surprise: College Students Really Unhealthy

A study of more than 800 college students at the University of New Hampshire found that undergrads are crazily bad at feeding themselves properly and it’s meaning high cholesterol and vitamin deficiency:

Sixty-six percent of male students and 50 percent of female students had at least one symptom of metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, excess abdominal fat, high blood glucose, high triglycerides and low levels of good cholesterol — all risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. One third of the students surveyed were overweight and obese, compared to nearly 40 percent of 18-to-24 year-olds nationally.

Joanne Burke and Ruth Reilly, both clinical assistant professors, led the study with lecturers Ingrid Lofgren and Jesse Morrell as part of the university’s “Nutrition in Health & Well Being” course. The study was first presented at the Experimental Biology Annual Meeting.

Only 5 percent of female students and 18 percent of male students met their daily recommendations for fiber intake. Most female students had too-low levels of iron, calcium and folate — 77 percent, 67 percent and 68 percent, respectively.

Students were surveyed on their diet and exercise patterns and calculating their body mass index numbers. Researchers measured their blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. Students also kept a food diary for three days, later adding up the calories, carbohydrates and nutrients they had taken in during that time.

The purpose of the program, Burke said, was for students to become engaged with the course material in a hands-on way. “If they read surveys or look at other peoples’ data, they don’t really understand the health risks,” she said. “When they get their data back they ask, ‘What does it mean for me?’ and it’s a real eyeopener, it’s a way for them to connect to what they’re studying.”

Burke said that though studies of the alcohol use, sexual activity and other “vices” of college students are common, the concerns of obesity, vitamin deficiency and other issues facing the New Hampshire students have barely been studied at the college level, because they are “important, though not as immediate.” The Centers for Disease Control last did a comprehensive college-based health survey in 1995, collecting data from 5,000 undergraduates for the National College Health Risk Behavior Survey.

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