5 College Student Physical Health Statistics

Carolina Jacobs

Feb 17, 2023
College Student Physical Health Statistics

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People regard college students as somewhat superhuman. “They’re young,” they say as if youth equates to invincibility. However, sickness doesn’t discriminate — it can strike at any age. 

Some issues do plague the 18 to 24 set more than others. Here are five college student physical health statistics that parents, counselors and learners should know about. 

One. More Than Half of Students Report More Than Average Stress

Despite media depictions of college as a carefree time, in reality, many students face inordinate stress loads. It isn’t only the pressure of making the grade — it’s the current reality. 

Student loan debt is now a crisis totaling more than $1.5 trillion. Despite all the money they spend on education, their pay is not commiserated when they emerge. Most U.S. jobs pay less than $20 an hour, which barely covers the cost of rent, utilities and food in many places. 

As a result, more and more young people can’t buy homes or start families despite following the course their parents and advisors told them would lead to financial security. When your paycheck barely covers your bills, you simply can’t save for a rainy day — let alone a brighter future. 

Well over half of all college students reported “more than average” or “tremendous” stress during the past year, according to a 2019 survey from the American College Health Association. This burden puts them at increased risk of chronic physical health concerns and substance use. 

For example, research from Australia suggests that chronic stress creates brain changes that keep your blood pressure elevated. Heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women, and hypertension increases the risk of an adverse cardiovascular event like heart attack or stroke. 

Furthermore, chronic stress impacts cortisol, a stress hormone that wreaks havoc when your body produces too much, becoming desensitized to the effects. Some stop eating, while many crave high-fat, high-sugar foods as their body tells them to prepare for a continued onslaught. Such a diet can result in insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. 

2. Nearly a Quarter Struggle to Get Enough Sleep 

Stress levels also impact sleep. Nearly a quarter of college students reported feeling tired or sleepy within the past week as of fall of 2021. 

Drowsiness increases the risk of a fatal accident. Getting behind the wheel tired is as bad as after a few drinks and students could injure themselves or others. 

Furthermore, poor sleep exacerbates the symptom of nearly every other mental and physical disorder. It makes chronic pain feel worse and can make controlling the impulsive behavior characteristic of many psychological disorders more difficult to resist. 

3. Meningitis Is Still a Threat

Meningitis spreads on college campuses thanks to close dorm quarters. From 2011 to 2019, 50 cases occurred across 13 campuses, with two cases resulting in death.  This disease has severe long-term ramifications, with one in five suffering brain damage, ongoing nervous system problems, paralysis and amputation. 

Students should remain vigilant of the following five symptoms and seek immediate help from their campus health center:

  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stiff neck

While many of these symptoms also occur in migraine headaches, fever does not. Seek help without delay if you’re unsure — the worst-case scenario is that campus health authorities find you negative for the virus. 

4. So Is COVID-19

Although many campuses went online during the COVID-19 pandemic, that didn’t keep some students from getting sick. Although vaccines reduce the chances of infection and reduce rates of severe illness when people fall ill, they are not fail safes. 

Students with long COVID often experience frustrating academic struggles, increasing their anxiety and depression risk. One study suggests that between 11% and 15% of youth infected develop this disorder. 

5. Nearly a Quarter Participated in Binge-Drinking in the Past Two Weeks 

One media depiction of college life proves true in reality: binge drinking. Nearly a quarter of students reported this behavior in the past two weeks, defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting.

Rates are increasing the fastest among female students. This sobering statistic too often leads to other adverse health outcomes. Women who binge drink are more likely to take unnecessary risks, increasing their chances of sexual assault. They’re also prone to run into tricky questions of consent — is an enthusiastic “yes” after three or four drinks the same as a sober one? Many would say no, but when both parties indulge, lines quickly become blurred.

Such episodes can leave students wracked with guilt and remorse. Should they report such incidents as assaults, with the resulting impact on two lives? Sometimes, the stress of dealing with the uncertainty about what happened fuels depression — and further substance use as the individual attempts to self-medicate their pain. 

College Student Health Statistics

The media often depicts college students as young and healthy. While many fit this stereotype, disease knows no age limit. 

Counselors, parents and students should understand the above college student health statistics. Knowing the reality helps them prepare to tackle any problems they may encounter. 

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