It’s important for students to understand college health issues because they impact their bodies, academics and future, said Laura Crawley, assistant dean of Campus Life for health promotions.The top five health concerns for college students listed by the American College Health Association are nutrition and exercise; alcohol, tobacco and drugs; sexual health; depression; and violence.
So how does TCU measure up?
Nutrition and Exercise
TCU is ranked No. 12 in the fittest colleges in the United States in a 2005 survey, but many TCU experts say there is room for improvement.
Though TCU may have a fitter campus than other universities, certain ideals must be thrown away to achieve physical health, said Trey Morrison, assistant director of fitness and wellness for the University Recreation Center.
“TV and Hollywood give us a great misconception to what health is,” Morrison said. “Diet trends are not conducive to a healthy lifestyle because they are destructive down the road. What’s important is to have balanced nutrients and a physically active lifestyle.”
For a student who is not physically active, the first thing to do is to simply get up, Morrison said.
“Find something you enjoy and do it,” he said. “You’re not prone to stick to something you don’t enjoy.”
Along with getting inadequate exercise, many students do not take in a balanced diet, said Gina Jarman Hill, assistant professor of nutritional sciences. Hill said students’ fast-paced lifestyles result in unhealthy quick fixes that are high in fat and sodium but their diets lack fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy foods.
Hill said most TCU students can change their diets for the better with just slight modifications.
“Small improvements add up, such as throwing a piece of fruit and some nuts in their backpacks rather than using the vending machines, as a backup, when they are famished,” Hill said.
If students do not take care of their nutritional health now, Hill said, they could face problems later, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. A more immediate effect of poor nutrition, Hill said, is fatigue, which makes it difficult for students to focus in class or go about day-to-day activities.
Most of all, Morrison said, it is important to exercise now for the future.
“It’s hard to convince a 20-year-old student to plan for when they’re 30, 40 or 60,” Morrison said. “But if you take care of your body today, it will take care of you tomorrow.”
Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs
Crawley said she considers alcohol to be the most threatening of the five health issues most affecting those in their college years. Crawley said alcohol use has more unintended consequences than any other health issue on campus.
One TCU expert said even one heavy-drinking episode can be seriously dangerous.
“If a student has a really heavy load of alcohol, even one time, it can do permanent damage to their liver,” said Yvonne Giovanis, program coordinator for the Alcohol and Drug Education Center.
According to a TCU survey of 705 students, TCU’s average for alcohol, tobacco and drug use is lower than the national average. The national average for students who had five or more drinks in one sitting in the past two weeks is 48.5 percent, while TCU’s average is 38 percent.
Giovanis said many people who come through the center do not have a serious problem with alcohol but some do.
“Eighty percent of students will go back to social drinking after they have been reported to us or the police for drinking,” Giovanis said. “But the ones we are concerned about are the 20 percent because they’re the ones that go toward a chronic dependency of alcohol.”
Giovanis said signs of a drinking problem need to be dealt with as early as possible because alcohol can make a person physically dependent.
Giovanis said TCU is considered a low- to moderate-use campus for alcohol and drugs. She said she thinks this is because the majority of students have more conservative values and many have strong religious backgrounds that guide their behavior.
Still, Giovanis said, there is a need for an Alcohol and Drug Education Center.
“The way we see it, if there is even one student – one – that has a problem with alcohol and drugs, then we have a reason to be here,” she said.
The No. 1 STD at TCU is herpes, an incurable sexually transmitted disease that spreads on contact, Giovanis said. Although she said no statistics were readily available, Giovanis said human papilloma virus and chlamydia come in a close second and third.
Sexual health is not often talked about but needs to be, Giovanis said.
“We have to create a climate to have open communication about sexual health,” Giovanis said. “If we can talk about it and be open with each other, then we can address the issues that need to be dealt with.”
Giovanis, who helps organize the National Sexual Responsibility Week each year at TCU, said a good way for sexually active students to prevent the spread of STDs is to get a simple screening each year at their annual physical exam. She said to be honest with all partners about any infections and diseases and to use protection.
Giovanis said sexual health is a concern, but said TCU has a high population that remains abstinent because of conservative values and religious faiths. She said the generation coming through TCU now has also been more exposed to abstinence campaigns than past generations.
Giovanis said students can visit the Brown-Lupton Health Center for STD screenings.
The American College Health Association study found that during the past school year, nearly 40 percent of students reported feeling so depressed at least once that it was difficult to function. More than 16 percent of students reported they have been clinically diagnosed with depression.
Depression is characterized by symptoms such as low moods and a loss of interest that prevent a person from leading a normal life.
Jessica Ziebarth, a peer counselor for the Counseling Center, said there is a general increase of mental disorders in the United States. She said an estimated one-in-five people will deal with depression at some time in his or her life.
Ziebarth said if students feel they may be depressed, the Counseling Center is available.
The best way to help a friend suffering from depression is to listen, be observant of behavioral changes and to use “I” messages to confront the friend, said Monica Kintigh, a licensed professional counselor in mental health services.
For example, she recommends saying, “I feel distant from you,” rather than “You are so distant,” which can seem accusatory.
Kintigh said referring the student to counseling is also a great way to help.
Though violence may seem rare at TCU, it does occur and is a concern, said Pam Christian, crime prevention officer for TCU Police.
In the past few weeks, Christian said, a non-TCU student assaulted a TCU Police officer.
Nonetheless, Christian said, the university takes precautions. TCU has emergency phones at different stations around campus, 24-hour police patrol, crime education and Froggie-Five-O, an escort service for female students.