Kegstands, 3 a.m. pizza parties, and all-nighters before finals — it’s no surprise that college students aren’t the healthiest people on the planet. But it turns out that women might actually be at more risk for over-drinking and unhealthy lifestyles than their fratty male friends. Recent research on Spanish undergraduates found there are significant differences in health habits between men and women — namely that, while men drink more often, women are more likely to binge drink.
Why It Matters
Study researchers looked at a number of health habits, including drug and alcohol use, physical activity levels, and disordered eating attitudes, and concluded that, in general, Spanish students lead an unhealthy lifestyle Lifestyle and health among Spanish university students: differences by gender and academic discipline. Varela-Mato, V., Cancela, J.M., Ayan, C., et al. Faculty of Education and Sports Science, University of Vigo, Xunqueira Campus, Pontevedra, Spain. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2012;9(8):2728-41.. For one thing, more than three quarters of students admitted to being “habitual consumers” of alcohol. And while guys tend to drink more often than ladies, results suggest that women are significantly more likely to binge drink, or have more than eight drinks in a night.
But don’t blame it (all) on the alcohol — looks like college women are at risk for other health issues as well. Physical activity was a problem for all students — only about a quarter met standards for physical activity — but women tended to be much more sedentary and less active than men. (At least there’s no line for the showers in the ladies’ locker room?) Women were also more likely to exhibit disordered attitudes toward eating. On the other hand, while most students said they were smokers and about a third used illegal substances, women were less likely to smoke and use drugs.
Is It Legit?
Yes. This study is hardly the first to suggest that college students aren’t exactly the picture of perfect health, or that women are especially unhealthy. And this isn’t just un problemo for Spain: In the U.S., studies have found binge drinking among women has steadily increased over the last few decades Binge Drinking Among Youth and Young Adults in the United States: 1979–2006. Grucza, R.A., Norberg, K.E., Bierut, L.J. Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2009;48(7):692-702.. Other research suggests American undergraduates spend more time knocking back beers than they do studying.
Still, it’s worth noting that all these findings are based on self-reports from students, meaning students may actually be drinking more (or less) than they admitted to in the surveys. And it’s important to remember these are just findings from undergraduates at one university, so we can’t automatically generalize the findings to every undergraduate everywhere (though research suggests college students’ drinking behaviors are pretty similar across Europe, Australasia, and North America) Alcohol use among college students: an international perspective. Karam, E., Kypri, K., Salamoun, M. Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology, St George Hospital University Medical Center, Beirut, Lebanon. Current Opinion in Psychiatry 2007;20(3):213-21..
In general these stats are pretty useful for figuring out what kinds of help college students need in terms of their health habits. It might not be time to open a branch of Alcoholics Anonymous on every college campus, but it’s certainly worth thinking about ways to educate college students about making healthier choices.
Do you think binge drinking is more of a problem for college women? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.