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Student Health in 2016 - Trends

Written by Pat Fred   
Tuesday, 06 December 2016 04:35

News stories abound. College students partying, over-indulging in alcohol and drugs, and going wild. These stories make news because we tend to gravitate toward the spectacular, and news outlets know this. If we are going to look at the broader picture of student health issues – physical and mental – we have to dig into the research and what that tells us about health trends among students. Here are the trends that the latest research actually shows.

Current Student Health Habits Will Impact Our Future

Today’s students are the future labor pool and leaders of the nation. This is also a generation that has grown up on chicken nuggets, pizza, and tater tots for school lunches, lots of frozen meals for dinner, and fast food in between.

It is also a generation that has grown up with devices and video games rather than on playgrounds. And according to a CDC report, 20.5% of college students are obese.

Add to this the fact that drug abuse is on the rise.

All is not lost, however. There is evidence that students are beginning to move toward healthier lifestyles.

Recent Summary Report – Fitness and Nutrition

OpEd News recently published a report on health trends of college students, and the information is more optimistic. Here are those trends.

College students are becoming more physically active. Many of them have personal fitness programs, which include gym workouts, running, and intramural sports. Because their schedules are more flexible than those of working adults, they have the time to work in their fitness activities. While devices may have given them a less active childhood, they are now being used to access fitness information, exercise videos, etc.

Their sense of social responsibility has led to a greater awareness of food production and origins. This is a trend that promises to continue into adulthood. They are discussing how food is produced on large corporate farms, such as antibiotics and growth hormones in meat products and GMO’s in crops. They want to know where their foods come from. This has led to far more organic food products in grocery stores and, in fact, entire groceries that carry only organic foods and/or purchase only from local growers.

Their access to information has led to an understanding of so-called super foods – fruit and vegetables high in anti-oxidants and providing more long-term energy. Students are more aware of the effect that foods have on their health and their overall performance. As technology, particularly apps that can give people daily information on what they have eaten and how that relates to their overall health and fitness goals, there will continue to be a focus on nutritional intake.

Another area of increasing health awareness is the understanding of the connection between mind and body. They are increasingly interested in Yoga and meditation – so much, so that campus courses in this are now being offered. These exercises help to relieve stress, leaving students more relaxed.

University of Michigan Study – Drug and Alcohol Use

A 2015 study conducted by the University of Michigan related specifically to drug and alcohol abuse. There are some encouraging signs.

  • Marijuana use is still on the increase among college students; however, the use of other, “harder” drugs, specifically opioids and amphetamines, is on the decline
  • 38% of college students surveyed stated that they had used marijuana in the past year – this is an 8% increase from 2006.
  • Daily marijuana use reaches its highest level in 2014, but decreased in 2015 by 1%.

Researchers believe that the higher use of marijuana is most likely the wider acceptance of the drug, the de-criminalization of it, and the perception that it carries low risk. In 2003, 58% of surveyed students stated that it was potentially dangers; only 33% believe that now.

  • Use of opioids, such as Oxycontin and Percocet has declined to only 3% of the students surveyed. Heroin has decreased to 0.1% as of the end of 2015.
  • Use of amphetamines has declined slightly and is now about 10%. This use is most common among students who use stimulants to stay awake for late night studying.

Relative to alcohol use, things have not changed much.

  • 75% of students surveyed in the 2015 study stated that they had used alcohol in the past year, 66% within the last 30 days.
  • 40% stated they had engaged in binge drinking.

Cigarette use on a daily basis has declined to 11%, down from its highest of 33% in 1999.

The health concerns associated with drug and alcohol use are medically proven. To be fair, a lot of students who engage in abuse do so while in college and taper off as they move into their career fields. But it is encouraging that use of “harder” drugs is on the decline. This indicates that students are becoming more aware of the health hazards of these serious drugs and are using them less.

Mental Health

Stressors for students are common and universal. Being away from home and family, social pressures, and academic demands all take their toll. Most students find ways to cope and, even though stressed, come through periods of anxiety and depression and move on. Some students, however, do not. According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), 50% of college students have had enough anxiety, stress or depression that they have struggled in school; 80% have felt overwhelmed at times.

Fortunately, students are now more open about their stress and anxiety, at least with one another, and they have found ways to cope from one another:

  • They are now understanding the benefits of exercise and a decent diet
  • They are more aware of the negative effects of lack of sleep
  • They participate in more volunteer work than before, something that improves their sense of optimism and of giving back.


There is also an uptick in the use of wearables. Students have found that they can keep themselves more physically fit if they monitor their daily movements, diets, and sleep. Just having the reminders can serve as a motivator to improve their health habits. It appears that this trend will continue through 2017 and beyond, as the technology continues to improve.


The research shows that students are developing an increasing awareness of healthy lifestyles and are moving in that direction. And they are encouraging each other to do so as well. They also appear to be seeking more personalized solutions to fitness, through classes, exercise programs, and technology. If these trends continue, we just may have the next generation of adults who are far more fit than the generation before them.

About the author: Pat Fredshaw is a writer and contributing blogger from Oakland who works for EssaySupply and writes her own book. Her articles related to such areas as health, psychology, personal growth, and education. your social media marketing partner
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