30th Apr 2024

Historically, university students develop harmful health-related habits that have negative consequences for current and future health outcomes. To begin tackling this issue, literature has previously identified relationships between psychological and behavioural markers of health. However, there is currently limited understanding of the system within which these factors interact. The current study aimed to explore the relationships between health-related behaviours and outcomes in UK university students using Bayesian network analysis. 4,132 university students completed an online, self-report survey to assess behavioural and psychological markers of health over three academic years (2021-2023). Directed Acyclical Graph (DAG) analysis was conducted to explore the relationships between variables of interest. The DAG demonstrated that ethnicity had the most profound influence on the model. Perceived stress (PS) also had a major impact on the model through directly influencing smoking status, sleep quality (SQ), and mental wellbeing (MWB). Body mass index (BMI) also had a notable impact via direct associations with SQ and movement behaviours. When separated by gender, the model in men was largely similar to the overall model. However, in women, the associations between smoking status and SQ, smoking status and SB, and BMI and SQ were no longer present. These findings provide novel insight into the complex system within which psychological and behavioural aspects of health interact to influence students’ health status. Specifically, targeting PS and BMI could be an effective strategy to improve various markers of health and behaviours in UK university students.

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