More U.S. college students face obesity

UPDATED: 10:07, June 22, 2007

More U.S. college students face obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inactivity, according to a new study.

Students at the age group of 18-24-year-olds are on the path toward chronic health diseases, said the study conducted by University of New Hampshire (UNH) researchers.

The study was based on new data on the widely unstudied demographic of college students.

The UNH data, collected from more than 800 undergraduates enrolled in a general-education nutrition course, found that at least one-third of UNH students are overweight or obese, 8 percent of men had metabolic syndrome, 60 percent of men had high blood pressure, and more than two-thirds of women are not meeting their nutritional needs for iron, calcium or folate.

Although limited, national data suggest the trend is not unique to UNH, said the study.

"They're not as healthy as they think they are," says UNH lecturer Ingrid Lofgren, who was collecting and analyzing the data with her Nutrition in Health & Well Being co-teachers Joanne Burke and Ruth Reilly, both clinical assistant professors, and lecturer Jesse Morrell.

The researchers, who presented their findings at the recent Experimental Biology Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., initially asked students to engage in a variety of health-indicator screenings like blood pressure and cholesterol to bring the class alive with interactivity.

Students completed questionnaires on their lifestyle behaviors and dietary habits, chronicling their smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption, and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Their body mass index (BMI) was calculated from their height and weight, their waist circumference was measured, and they were screened for blood pressure as well as glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and high-density cholesterol.

The students also completed a three-day food diary and analyzed their calories, carbohydrates, and nutrient intakes with nutrition software.

Individual results shocked many of the students, and the aggregated data contradicted the notion that college students are at the peak of health.

Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of five risk factors (high blood pressure, excess abdominal fat, high blood glucose, high triglycerides, and low HDL or "good" cholesterol) that are predictive of future development of heart disease and diabetes, is particularly prevalent in males. Up to 66 percent of males (compared to 50 percent of females) had at least one risk for metabolic syndrome, and eight percent of males had metabolic syndrome.

"These individuals, if they continue on this trajectory, are going to be much more of a health burden at age 50 than their parents are," says Burke.

The vast majority of students -- 95 percent of women and 82 percent of men -- are not meeting nutrient recommendations for fiber, according to the study recently published by EurekAlert, the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Source: Xinhua

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