College Students: Failing the Health Test

College students now have more to stress about than finals: they are as much at risk for serious diseases, like diabetes, as their parents or grandparents.

A new study of 800 undergrads at the University of New Hampshire found many students had risk factors ranging from high cholesterol to low bone density. Sixty percent of male students had high blood pressure, and two thirds of females were not meeting their needs for calcium, iron or folate. More than one third were overweight or obese, the same as in the general population. "Many of the students were astounded that they could be at risk for what they would view as elderly-related diseases," says Joanne Burke, a researcher who led the study.

Previous research has confirmed these health concerns on campus. A 2005 study of undergrads at Washington University in St. Louis found that 70 percent had significant weight gain between freshman and sophomore years. "It's scary to see these things, because people are dying from the effects of obesity," says Susan S. Duesinger, author of the study.

The trends suggest that students are so absorbed in academia they don't notice their unhealthy habits. "They're just trying to get their homework in on time," says Lona Sandon, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "They run out of time to think about health."