PhotoSince the first colleges were opened, administrators have been complaining about rowdy behavior and excessive drinking by students. But that's just the beginning -- a new study says the majority of college students engage in unhealthy behavior that could raise their risk of cancer later on.

The study from Northwestern Medicine and Northeastern Illinois University found that the majority of college students are engaging in unhealthy behaviors, with minority students running up an even greater risk, especially African Americans and Native Americans.

A shocking 95% of college students fail to eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables (five or more servings a day), and more than 60% report not getting enough physical activity (three or more days of vigorous exercise for at least 20 minutes or five or more days of moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a week).

“Changing unhealthy behaviors in college students now could be a way to reduce the risk of cancer as well as other diseases later in life,” said Brian Hitsman, a Northwestern professor and principal investigator of the study.

Published online May 5 in the journal Preventive Medicine, the study is the first to evaluate cancer risk behaviors and conditions in college students and how they vary by race and ethnicity. Data for the study comes from the fall 2010 wave of the National College Health Assessment, a self-reported survey of a diverse group of more than 30,000 college students in the United States.

The majority of all college students surveyed reported low fruit and vegetable consumption and low physical activity. Other unhealthy behaviors or conditions -- alcohol binge drinking, tobacco use and obesity/being overweight -- appear to cluster differently among college students depending on their race, the scientists found.

For example, tobacco use and alcohol binge drinking seem to go hand in hand for all subgroups except black students. For black students, tobacco use co-occurred with being overweight/obese.

“Tobacco use and obesity are two health issues that have been vying in the last five years for first place as the major health problem in the United States,” said Joseph Kang, lead author of the study and assistant professor in preventive medicine-biostatistics at Feinberg. “It’s frightening that those behaviors seem to co-occur in black students.”

Native Americans were the only racial group in which there were students who engaged in all five unhealthy behaviors/conditions (alcohol binge drinking, tobacco use, insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption, low physical activity and obesity/being overweight). The finding was surprising and even more frightening than the profile for tobacco use and obesity in black students, Kang said.

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