An Examination of Student Health Behaviors during their First Year at University

Ann-Marie Knowles, Johanna Shaw, Allan Hewitt, Chris Easton, Sarah Robertson, Neil Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstract


Young adults encounter significant change when they progress from the highly organized and controlled setting of school to the more relaxed and self-motivated environment at University. This can affect the physical and mental well-being of young adults, with evidence showing that levels of psychological distress within the University population are cause for concern (Stallman, 2010). Physical activity has been shown to be positively related with mental well-being in University students yet physical activity levels typically decrease during their time at University.PURPOSE: To examine changes in the mental well-being and physical activity levels of first year students at two Scottish Universities.METHODS: Baseline data were collected at the start of the academic year (September, Semester 1). 48 University students (24M, 24F; mean age = 18.3 ± 0.9 yrs) wore an Actigraph GT3x accelerometer 24h/day for 7 consecutive days and completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), the SF-12 Health Survey and the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ). Height, weight, hip and waist circumference were also assessed. Follow-up assessment of the same outcome measures occurred 6 months later (February, Semester 2). Changes in outcome measures were examined using a paired samples t-test. Gender and living environment (on-campus vs. off-campus) comparisons were examined using a two-way repeated measures ANOVA. All tests were conducted at nominal p<0.05.RESULTS: Time spent in moderate physical activity decreased from Semester 1 to Semester 2 (64 vs. 54 mins/day, p<0.05; d=0.1); levels of anxiety decreased (6.8 vs. 4.4, p<0.05; d=0.3) and hip (95.3 vs. 97.0 cm, p<0.05; d= 0.2) and waist circumference increased (74.3 v. 76.2 cm, p<0.05; d=0.3). There were no significant interaction or main effects between gender and living environment for the outcome variables.CONCLUSION: Small to moderate changes to moderate levels of physical activity, hip and waist circumference are evident during the first six months at University. However, levels of anxiety decreased during this time, perhaps as students became more familiar and comfortable with the University environment. Implementation of tailored interventions targeting positive physical and mental health behaviors upon entry to University is needed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-915
JournalMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
Issue number5S
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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