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'A Healthy CIT': An Investigation Into Student Health Metrics, Lifestyle Behaviours and the Predictors of Positive Mental Health in an Irish Higher Education Setting

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'A Healthy CIT': An Investigation Into Student Health Metrics, Lifestyle Behaviours and the Predictors of Positive Mental Health in an Irish Higher Education Setting

Andrea Bickerdike et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health.

Abstract

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are potent health promotion settings, uniquely positioned to aid societal efforts to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs). International evidence suggests that health metrics and lifestyle behaviours of higher education students are sub-optimal, yet a dearth of contemporary Irish data exists. This study aimed to examine sex differences in student lifestyle behaviours and identify significant predictors of positive mental health in an Irish HEI setting. An online questionnaire instrument distributed to all registered students (n = 11,261) gathered data regarding a multitude of health and lifestyle domains. Many items were adapted from previous Irish research. Further validated scales included the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), Mental-Health Index 5 (MHI-5) and the Energy and Vitality Index (EVI). Self-reported height/body mass were also recorded. In total, 2267 responses were analysed (51.7% female, 48.3% male). Both sexes demonstrated poor sleeping patterns, hazardous drinking and sub-optimal fruit and vegetable intake. The calculated prevalence of overweight/obesity was 38.2%. Both sexes underestimated obesity. Males underestimated and females overestimated overweight. Males displayed riskier behavioural patterns with regard to illicit substances, drinking, and sexual partners. Females reported greater psychological distress. Multivariate linear regression identified 8 variables as predictors of positive mental health, accounting for 37% of the variance in EVI scores. In conclusion, HEI students would benefit from sex-specific multi-level health promotion initiatives to remove macro-level barriers to healthier lifestyles.

Keywords: BMI; gender; health; health behaviours; health promotion; healthy universities; lifestyle; mental health; university students.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Perceived versus calculated BMI category classifications (females, n = 996). Kappa Measure of Agreement 0.50, p < 0.0005.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Perceived versus calculated BMI category classifications (males, n = 974). Kappa Measure of Agreement 0.32, p < 0.0005.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Lifetime use of illicit substances by sex. *significant between sexes p < 0.05 **significant between sexes p < 0.0005, ~Item valid responses: Solvents n = 1597, LSD n = 1595, Tranquilisers n = 1602, Head Shop Products n = 1598, Amphetamine n = 1599, Magic Mushrooms n = 1598, Cocaine n = 1600, Ecstasy/MDMA n = 1601. Due to low absolute numbers reporting their use, relevin, heroin and drugs by injection were omitted from this analysis.

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