Campus living not the picture of health
By Jennifer Harper
November 16, 2007
America's college students are in a worrisome state of health, according to a study released yesterday.

Most drink and are sexually active, many have been diagnosed with mental illness, and plenty are fat and in debt, says the University of Minnesota, which surveyed 10,000 students from 14 campuses across the state.

"College students face multiple risks to their health, and their behavior affects all parts of their existence," said Dr. Edward P. Ehlinger, director of the school's Boynton Health Service, which coordinated the research.

It is the first comprehensive analysis of campus health issues, and it reflects national trends, Dr. Ehlinger said.

Nearly eight out of 10 students reported being sexually active, while 71 percent drink alcohol. An additional 37 percent described their drinking habits as "high risk," consuming five or more drinks at one sitting. A quarter of the young respondents smoke or use smokeless tobacco.

Many also appear to be troubled: 27 percent said they had been formally diagnosed with a "mental health illness," with depression and anxiety leading the list. Among young women, 23 percent said they were sexually assaulted, with "lingering impact" on their studies.

The collegiate population also is getting fat and inactive: 39 percent are considered clinically overweight or obese. An additional 41 percent admitted that excessive computer and Internet use was having a serious effect on their academic performance.

Other research confirms campus life can be complex, indeed.

According to the American College Health Association, the top impediments to good academic performance are stress, followed by cold or flu, sleep difficulties, concern for friends or family, excessive Internet and computer-game usage, or depression and anxiety disorders.

Dubious habits have serious ramifications, Dr. Ehlinger said.

"Good health helps students remain in school, and a college degree or certificate is an excellent predictor of better health and economic status throughout one's lifetime," he noted, adding that bad behavior can have a wide audience.

"College students are a large and growing population and are establishing lifestyles and behavior patterns," Dr. Ehlinger said. "They are the trendsetters and the role models for younger people, and they are the future leaders of our society."

He also is concerned about collegiate debt. The survey found that 58 percent of the students owe $1,000 or more on their credit cards.

"Students with greater than $1,000 of credit-card debt tend to have higher rates of depression and have lower grade-point averages," Dr. Ehlinger said.

The study also found that 7 percent of the students used illicit drugs, and 9 percent had no health insurance.

Policymakers and college administrators need to consider the findings and make student health a priority, he said.

"We need to look at a student as a complex and complete person," Dr. Ehlinger said.


A survey of 10,000 college students conducted by the University of Minnesota reveals some worrisome lifestyle trends.

77 percent are sexually active

71 percent drink alcohol; 37 percent report "high-risk" drinking

58 percent have credit-card debt of $1,000 or more

41 percent say excessive computer and TV time affects their academic performance

39 percent are overweight or obese

27 percent have been diagnosed with a mental disorder

25 percent smoke

23 percent of females students have been sexually assaulted

9 percent have no health insurance

Source: University of Minnesota