On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Healthy College Student 101

This fall, more than 220,000 students across Oklahoma will head to universities, community colleges and technical schools throughout the state. An exciting time with both classroom lessons and life lessons, many look back on college as the best years of their life. However, the college environment can lead to the development of very unhealthy habits very quickly. Being aware and proactive can help with a smoother adjustment and healthier transition emotionally, physically and mentally.

The biggest effect on grades may surprise you

In their annual National College Health Assessment, the American College Health Association sheds light on issues college students face across all facets of health. factors reported as affecting academic performance in college students

While alcohol use undoubtedly plays a part in many college students’ social lives and the negative consequences of its abuse are widely known, students report other stressors as having much worse effects on academic performance. Anxiety, depression, sleep issues and general stress were all reported to impact individual grades or performance in a course at a much higher level than alcohol use alone. Intense mental stress for many college students has led to some using or abusing prescription or illegal drugs. The numbers from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse are alarming:

statistics on college student drug use

Nutrition, physical activity and sleep are crucial

What does this mean for Oklahoma’s college students and their parents? Awareness of the bigger picture is key. If students maintain their emotional health, physical health and mental health through the major life changes they experience in college, this will help contribute to a better education overall. Often, the transition to college and keeping up with social engagements means physical activity falls to the bottom of students’ priority list.

statistics on college-level physical activity

Another item often at the bottom of a college student’s priority list? Proper nutrition. With constraints on time, budget and cooking equipment, adequate nutrition — especially through fruits and vegetables — can fall to the wayside in favor of convenient, albeit unhealthy, options.

statistics on college student nutrition levels

Perhaps most concerning, however, is the general shortage of sleep among college students and the resulting mental health effects.  More than nine out of 10 college students reported a lack of sleep as affecting their mental state during the day, whether in the classroom or while completing routine activities. Other forms of mental stress manifest through anxiety and loneliness – a common issue as students face new obstacles without the comforts of home and the support of old friendships.

statistics on mental health of college students

Encourage your child to take these steps

As a parent or caretaker of a college student, having open and supportive discussions with your child about the importance of staying healthy in college, especially in regards to mental health, can make a difference. Talk to your student about prioritizing healthy activities along with their coursework. Reiterate the importance of good nutrition and adequate sleep for maintaining energy and focus, and consider suggesting the following:
  • Getting involved on campus through academic or philanthropic organizations.
  • Volunteering for causes they’re passionate about.
  • Becoming familiar with on-campus tutoring and counseling.
  • Staying up-to-date on annual flu shots and other vaccines, including the HPV vaccine for young women (recommended by the CDC for women up to age 26, men up to age 21).
  • Taking advantage of on-campus recreation centers and intramural sports.
  • Finding an on-campus health provider, if available.
New college students are ready to take hold of their newfound freedoms. They need to feel empowered to make good health decisions that will make a difference in the classroom and in life.

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