Survey says … students are healthy

    From the people who brought you the “”Academic Advising Needs Assessment and Satisfaction”” inventory comes “”The Healthy Physically Active Lifestyles”” survey. Based on the tabulated responses to a survey of over a thousand students, with the help of a few statistical tweaks and motivational prods, the Student Research and Information branch of Student Affairs compiled our self-assessment on all things health. If you don’t like the results, you have nobody to blame but a giant statistical sample of your own peers.

    The survey asked students about their activities and lifestyle, including exercise habits, sleep patterns, health goals, motivations, diet and body perception.

    Dr. William Armstrong, the head of the committee that put together the study, was surprised by student health at UCSD.

    “”Students have a lot more exercise and fitness in their lives than we would have thought,”” he said, attributing some of the difference to the invigorating effects of San Diego weather. Half of undergraduates get at least three days of exercise per week.

    However, UCSD students should not pat themselves on the back too much. According to the Institute of Medicine, everyone should get at least an hour of exercise every day in their lives. If this seems a bit more rigorous than you remember, you’re right; the surgeon general used to ask for just three days per week.

    According to today’s stringent demands, only four percent of students are giving their all and exercising daily. You might know these people as exercise addicts or neurotic spandex troops, but they are now the model fitness citizens. No wonder a majority of both males and females want to change their exercise behaviors.

    Health isn’t the only reason that students make the trek to RIMAC. Trailing physical fitness by only three percentage points at 73 percent is personal appearance. On the other hand, most students said they could not exercise as much as they would like because of time constraints, while only a minority reported a lack of motivation as holding them back. Students want to be fit, but they just can’t always fit it into their overloaded schedules.

    According to Armstrong, the preoccupation with aesthetics has gotten better over the years. He said that binging and purging used to run far more rampant, citing research done by a colleague in graduate school.

    “”Let’s just say it was really bad for the plumbing system,”” he said. “”Of course, this was back in the ’80s.””

    But the janitors don’t have to worry these days, with only one percent of boys and girls saying they use vomiting or other means of purging to lose weight.

    “”Students, especially freshmen, are coming to class more stressed out than ever,”” Armstrong said.

    With most students feeling overwhelmed at least occasionally, and a majority of female students frequently feeling depressed, college life does not offer the sanctuary from the outside world that is often reported.

    In the shuffle of working, volunteering, socializing and studying, it is difficult to take care of the body. Not surprisingly, a full night’s sleep is often the first casualty in the war for time. The average UCSD student sleeps only about 6.3 hours per night, according to the survey. While it’s true that personal sleep needs vary from person to person, there is an obvious problem when less than two-fifths of students report getting more than three restful nights of sleep per week.

    Several groups had an interest in the results of the study. A considerable investment is put into gym and dining facilities every year, and the administration wants to make sure that there is a substantial return in student satisfaction.

    When it comes to dining services, half of students were unhappy with the amount of healthy campus food available, while 10 percent of respondents opted out of this question entirely.

    There were also questions about gym facilities that didn’t make it into the publicly available results. Students were asked whether they would be interested in 24-hour gym availability, but most students replied that they were satisfied with the normal gym hours. This makes sense, since many students cited the social atmosphere of working out as a major motivation.

    To get a large representative sample of the student body, researchers used a few lifts, tucks, pokes and prods. All black, Latino and Native American individuals at the school received the e-mail to account for the disturbingly low numbers of those students on campus, according to Armstrong. Women and men were both equally sampled, but since women were more attentive in replying, men were given quite a few more reminder e-mails to ensure action.

    At first glance, the number of seniors polled seems unnaturally high, but the school doesn’t want to overlook all of the fifth- and sixth-year students. Getting the impressive 29 percent response rate wasn’t just chance either. Gift certificates to local stores and other enticements were used to lure students into revealing their habits.

    One subject the survey did not focus on was a popular undergraduate vice. Although the survey asked students how many days per week students and their peers smoke and drink, those surveyed said they shied away from binge drinking.

    “”Binge drinking didn’t seem to be that big a deal here,”” Armstrong said. He cited the small number of drinking-related emergencies, the lackluster Greek life, the relatively dry campus and the lack of a party-ready college town. “”It’s not like San Diego State,”” he concluded.

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