24th Nov 2023

Background: Previous literature has indicated that health-related outcomes and behaviours in university students are poor relative to the general population. The increased number of students presenting as trans and gender diverse (TGD) and from minoritised ethnicity backgrounds, combined with substantial contextual shifts related to the COVID-19 pandemic, mean that up-to-date information is unavailable. The aim of the present study was therefore to characterise the current self-reported movement, dietary and lifestyle behaviours, mental health, and Body Mass Index (BMI) of UK university students.
Methods: An online, self-report survey was administered across three years (2021-2023). Three independent cohorts of university students’ (n=6,358) completed the survey on four key topic areas. One-way ANOVAs were used to assess differences between genders, and independent samples t-tests were used to assess differences between ethnic groups.
Results: 30% of students were not meeting physical activity guidelines, 54% were sedentary for ≥6 hours per day, 83% had poor diet quality, 51% were in high or increased risk groups for alcohol consumption, 18% experienced terrible or poor sleep quality, and 32% were overweight or obese. Gender differences were present for all variables other than walking physical activity (WPA) (P<0.05) and differences between ethnic groups were present for all variables other than sedentary behaviour (SB), diet quality score (DQS), WPA and BMI (P<0.05).
Conclusion: The findings of the current study provide an update on the current landscape of university students’ health and health-related behaviours. Overall, these results indicate that students health-related outcomes and behaviours are poor, and that gender and ethnic disparities remain prevalent.

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