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A "doctor" holds the head of a stethoscope out in front of him.

Survey measures health of college students

Study is first-ever comprehensive look at college students from all around the state

November 20, 2007

The health and well-being of young adults encompasses much more than just their use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. A report released last week by the University of Minnesota's Boynton Health Service reveals results from the state's first-ever comprehensive study of the health of college and university students.

The survey examined everything from mental health and obesity to financial health and sexual health. Among the findings: More than 27 percent of students surveyed have been diagnosed with a mental health illness at some point in their life; 15.7 percent have had the diagnosis in the last 12 months. And a significant amount of students (28.7 percent) reported excessive computer/Internet use, with 41.8 percent of those students indicating that computer use has affected their academic performance.

About 24,000 students from 14 Minnesota colleges and universities were randomly selected to participate in the 2007 College Student Health Survey Report, and nearly 10,000 returned the survey.

Ed Ehlinger, the director and chief health officer of the Boynton Health Service, said higher education leaders, state leaders, and the general public should pay attention to the findings and make the health of college students a priority.

"We really need to address college student health issues on a statewide basis and not just on an individual school basis," said Ehlinger, who added that the survey was designed to look at students in a more holistic way.

"The health of college students is important not only to the institutions they attend but also to the health of the state of Minnesota," 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."

"We really need to address college student health issues on a statewide basis and not just on an individual school basis," said Ehlinger, who added that the survey was designed to look at students in a more holistic way.

Ehlinger outlined the report's overall findings during a press conference and health summit on Thursday, November 15. The following is a breakdown of some of the report's key findings:

Mental health

Results show that 27.1 percent of students surveyed have been diagnosed with a mental health illness within their lifetime, and 15.7 percent were diagnosed with a mental health illness in the last 12 months. On the Twin Cities campus, 25.1 percent reported being diagnosed with at least one mental health condition in their lifetime. At all of the schools, depression and anxiety were the two most frequently reported mental health diagnoses for students, both in their lifetime and for the last 12 months. Of all the students, 18.5 percent reported being diagnosed during their lifetime with depression; 13.3 percent were diagnosed with anxiety.

Physical activity/nutrition/obesity

Nearly two-fifths, or 38.5 percent, of all students surveyed fall within the overweight or obese/extremely obese categories. At the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, 29.1 percent of those surveyed fall within the overweight or obese/extremely obese categories.

Excessive computer use is seen as new issue affecting student physical health. On the Twin Cities campus, 32.2 percent of students surveyed reported excessive computer/Internet use (compared to 28.7 percent for all students) and among this group, 41.9 percent indicated this activity impacted their academic performance.

Health insurance

Another key finding of the report is that 9.4 percent of all undergraduate students surveyed don't have health insurance. For students in the University of Minnesota system, that rate is 5.6 percent, compared with a 13.7 percent uninsured rate at non-U of M schools. On the Twin Cities campus, the uninsured rate for undergraduate students is 6.5 percent. Students in the 18- to 24-year-old range tend to have insurance, while students who are 25 to 29 years old are less likely to have it.

"We have a fairly low uninsured rate here in the University of Minnesota system, where students are required to carry insurance," Ehlinger said. "The higher uninsured rate throughout the rest of the schools makes the argument that a requirement for insurance coverage is a good thing for schools and for students."

The students who have insurance are more likely to go in for preventive health services and have fewer sick days.

"College students use health services on campus and in communities and when it comes to mental health services, students seek out assistance on campus," he added. "That tells us that colleges really do need to invest in on campus support services"

Financial health

Of students surveyed, 33.4 percent reported carrying some level of credit card debt over the past month, and 57.8 percent reported the debt as $1,000 or more. On the Twin Cities campus, 29 percent of students reported carrying some level of credit card debt and 59.9 percent said the debt is $1,000 per month or more.

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

Sexual violence

More than one in five (22.4 percent) female students reported experiencing a sexual assault in their lifetime, with 6.8 percent having been assaulted in the last 12 months. For male students, only 4.9 percent reported being sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and 1.9 percent within the past 12 months. Such assaults have lingering effects on students and their academic performance, Ehlinger said. Students who have been victims of sexual assault report higher rates of depression.

Sexual health

Of students surveyed, 77.6 percent reported having been sexually active in their lifetime, with 72.1 percent having been sexually active within the past 12 months. On the Twin Cities campus the rates are similar, with 77.1 percent having been sexually active in their lifetime and 71.7 percent within the past year. However, nearly four out of five (78.5 percent) students reported having no or one sexual partner within the last 12 months (77.8 percent for the Twin Cities campus).

"Students are pretty monogamous, according to the results, which contradicts the commonly held stereotype of students being promiscuous," Ehlinger said.

Alcohol

Alcohol use continues to be a concern for universities and colleges. Among students surveyed, 70.5 percent reported using alcohol in the last 30 days and 37.1 percent reported engaging in high-risk drinking within the past two weeks. At the Twin Cities campus, those rates are 74.3 percent and 36.5 percent, respectively. Illicit drug use among those surveyed is low, with 6.8 percent reporting the use of drugs. On the Twin Cities campus, that number was 7.1 percent.

Tobacco use

For students at all 14 schools, the current rate for tobacco use over the last 30 days was 25 percent. (Tobacco use includes smokeless tobacco.) On the Twin Cities campus, the tobacco use rate was 20.9 percent for students ages 18 to 24, with a daily use rate of 3.7 percent. Both rates are the lowest for Twin Cities students since data on tobacco was first collected in 1992.

All five University of Minnesota campuses were included in the survey group, along with the following schools: Alexandria Technical College, Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Lake Superior College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, North Hennepin Community College, Northwest Technical College, Bemidji State University, Concordia College, and Minnesota State University Moorhead. For the Twin Cities campus, 2,920 students completed the survey out of 6,000 who were selected to participate.

Along with Boynton, the study was funded Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota.