Physical Exercise and Body-Mass Index in Young Adults: A National Survey of Norwegian University Students

BMC Public Health. 2019 Oct 23;19(1):1354. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7650-z.


Background: Physical inactivity and obesity pose a major public health challenge. The aim of this study was to describe the level of physical exercise and body-mass index in college and university students, as well as to examine potential changes from 2010 to 2018.

Methods: Data stem from the SHoT study, a national student health survey for higher education in Norway, conducted at 4-year intervals. The SHOT studies conducted so far in 2010, 2014 and 2018, included 6053, 13,525 and 50,054 fulltime students (aged 18-35), respectively. Exercise frequency (average number of times exercising each week) was assessed in all three waves, and was used for the trend analysis. The last wave in 2018 also assessed the average intensity and duration of the exercise.

Results: Overall, students exercised less in 2018 compared to 2014, but comparable to level in 2010. The prevalence of overweight increased substantially from 2010 to 2018, but especially in the last 4 years and among older female students. Less than one of four male, and one of five female students, met the recommended criteria for both exercise frequency, intensity and duration. As expected, the associations between exercise and overweight/obesity were in a dose-response manner, and strong across all three waves.

Conclusions: Our findings show that the large majority of young adults fail to meet international recommendations on exercise, and that the proportion of overweight is increasing in both genders and across all age groups. We conclude that there is an urgent need for a broad approach to achieve a paradigm shift in supporting our college and university students to become more active.

Keywords: Body-mass index; College students; Epidemiology; Physical exercise; Trend.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult