UHS survey looks at student health, wellness

By Ian Dillingham, Daily News Editor
Published October 15, 2014

Wednesday morning, University Health Service released a summary of results of its National College Health Assessment — a survey 7,000 undergraduate and 5,000 graduate and professional students designed to shed light on the current state of student health and provide the University with a resource for addressing campus needs.

The University has previously conducted the survey, based on recommendations from the American College Health Association, in 2006 and 2010. The 2014 survey was conducted in February.

The survey sought to gather data on a wide array of topics, including students’ impediments to academic performance, violence on campus, substance use and abuse, sexual health, nutrition and students’ medical history. The results of each survey item were compared against 2006 and 2010 responses, as well as Healthy Campus 2020 goals — a 10-year national campus health objectives set forth by the ACHA designed in parallel with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Healthy People 2020 initiative.

The University has already met the Healthy Campus 2020 goals in several key areas, but acknowledged other areas where they have not yet achieved those goals. UHS Health Educator Carol Tucker said while the University takes note of the Healthy Campus 2020 goals in the survey, it has independent and sometimes more ambitious goals in some specific areas, such as alcohol abuse.

For instance, only 10 percent of undergraduate respondents indicated they had smoked a cigarette in the last month at the time of the survey — down from 16 percent in 2006 and 12 percent in 2010. In this area, the University has already surpassed the Healthy Campus 2020 goal of 14.4 percent.

When asked about contraception, almost 87 percent of undergraduates said they used any method during their last vaginal intercourse, while the Healthy Campus 2020 goal is only 62.3 percent.

However, the University has not yet met goals in reducing academic impairments from stress and anxiety, binge drinking, hookah and marijuana use, increasing the use of bike helmets and other areas.

Campus sexual health

Sexual wellness and safety also registered as an area of concern, with the prevalence of students who were sexually touched against their will, sexually penetrated without consent or in a sexually abusive relationship all registering higher than target levels. This follows a July report by the Washington Post, based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, which found the University ranked second nationally in reported sexual assaults on college campuses between 2010 and 2012.

Responses from two of these groups — students who reported being sexually penetrated against their will and students who reported being in a sexually abusive relationship in the last 12 months —rose from 0.6 percent to 1.6 percent from 2010 to 2014. While Tucker said the small number of respondents in these categories — 1.6 percent correlating to about 80 responses — necessitates the use of other data sources, she affirmed the University’s commitment to addressing the issue.

“The University is doing a tremendous amount around sexual misconduct,” Tucker said. “We’re sharing this data with our partners across campus and there will be conversations I’m sure, and there’s also other opportunities to triangulate (these results) using other data sources.”

This commitment, however, has faced criticism from both students and faculty. The University is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for its handling of sexual assault allegations on campus.

Academic impediments

Tucker said one particular area of interest for UHS was evaluating impediments to students’ academic performance. After testing 30 different factors — including elements such as work, death of a family member, finances and alcohol abuse — the survey found that students were most profoundly influenced by stress and anxiety.

Students were asked whether each of the test factors had contributed to receiving a lower grade or failing to complete an assignment or class. Among undergraduates, 31 percent reported stress and 22 percent reported anxiety as a contributing factor in such decreases in performance.

The results fall in line with national averages — in the ACHA’s 2013 nationally compiled results of about 33,000 students, 27.9 percent reported stress and 19.7 percent reported anxiety as an academic impediment.

The University offers several campus resources, such as Counseling and Psychological Services, to help students combat these issues and increase their academic performance.

“College is a pressured environment,” Tucker said. “There’s high expectations of performance and accomplishment. Students often enjoy that, but it comes with the downside of feeling the stresses associated with it.”

Alcohol abuse in Greek Life

In light of efforts by the University’s Greek system to combat alcohol abuse, the survey included analysis of alcohol consequences and protection strategies among members and non-members of such organizations.

The survey found significantly higher rates of almost all undesirable consequences of drinking among fraternity and sorority members versus non-Greek students — injury, loss of memory, unprotected sex, non-consensual sex and trouble with law enforcement.

Additionally, non-Greek students were found significantly more likely to employ protective strategies regarding alcohol consumption, such as tracking number of drinks, alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and avoiding drinking games.

Tucker said UHS continues to work with the Greek system to address these harmful drinking habits through offering services such as sober monitor training and “Stay in the Blue” educational materials.

A full summary of the results can be view on the UHS website.

Editor's Note: Since incentives were offered to select students who participated in the survey, Michigan Daily writers and editors who reviewed this article have not participated.