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Changes in student physical health behaviour: an opportunity to turn the concept of a Healthy University into a reality

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Julia Haas, M Baber, Nicola Byrom, Laura Meade, K T Nouri-Aria

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)316-324
Number of pages9
JournalPerspectives In Public Health
Issue number6
Accepted/In press13 Jul 2018
Published1 Nov 2018


King's Authors


Previous studies have reported a high prevalence of unhealthy behaviours in the student population, which the Healthy University concept is now seeking to address, by taking a settings approach to health promotion. This study investigated how far students are already seeking to make changes to improve their health behaviour while in a university setting, to help inform the development of Healthy Universities.

Data on student health behaviour change, health indicators and demographics were gathered from 550 students attending two London universities, via an online questionnaire released through the student union email system at one university and through iPads at a student centre at the other.

In total, 84% of respondents reported making changes to try to become healthier while at university, primarily for proactive health reasons rather than reacting to a perceived health or weight issue. Universities and student unions were reported as influencing behaviour change by only five students. Compared with previous studies, a higher proportion of respondents were pursuing healthier lifestyles, including only 11% reporting they smoked. There were some statistically significant demographic differences as regards alcohol consumption, physical activity, the types of food students were seeking to avoid and the reasons for this.

The findings provide a novel perspective on student health behaviour and suggest that the traditional stereotype of a hedonistic student lifestyle freed from family constraints may need to be reassessed. Universities and student unions appear to have a significant opportunity to build on a more health conscious cohort of students, employing targeted approaches where appropriate, to encourage positive health behaviour change and make the Healthy Universities concept a reality, with important public health implications.

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