An examination of undergraduate student health behaviours during their first year at two Scottish universities

  • Johanna Shaw

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The first year University experience has a significant impact on student's mental health and physial activity behaviours as identified in the findings from these two mixed method studies. Both studies collected data to measure depression, anxiety and quality of life as well as self-report and accelerometer assessed physical activity levels. Data were collected at two Scottish Universities: Heriot Watt University is a rural, campus-based University located on the outskirts of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde is a city-centre based university in Glasgow. Study one examined the prevalance of symptoms of mental health and physical activity levels as well as the relationship between these among a sample of students in their second Semester of first year (n = 32, M = 18.6, SD = 0.9 years old). Results suggested that first year male University students (n = 19) were engaging in higher intensities of physical activity associated with better mental health than their female counterparts. It was also apparent that very vigorous intensity physical activity was closely related to lower levels of depressive symptoms. Study one also incorporated semi-structured interviews on a sub-sample of study participants (n = 6). University was identified to have had a negative impact on student's health behaviours which incorporated a negative impact on physical activity levels and dietary behaviours compared to previous behaviours at secondary school. A key finding identified in the qualitative aspect of study one was the perceived reduction in the intensity levels of their physical activity during first year. Students recalled school physical activity levels to be more structured and of a higher intensity. The findings from study one represent student health behaviours at one time point in first year, however research suggests student health behaviours change over time in first year at University; therefore, the aim of study two was to examine the change in mental health and physical activity levels over two time points in first year at University. Participants were recruited at the beginning of Semester 1 of their first year for phase one of data collection (n = 48, M = 18.3, SD = 0.9 years old) and the study had full retention of study participants at the second phase of data collection, which commenced at the beginning of Semester 2 of first year. Findings from this longitudinal study identified significant changes in male and female students' body composition to include increased waist and hip circumference. It was also evident that during Semester 1 of first year at University, students experienced heightened levels of anxiety in comparison to Semester 2, where anxiety levels reduced over the period of first year. This could suggest that intital entry and the transition to the University environment is an anxiety provoking time. Living environment significantly affected students' mental health and physical activity levels where those students who lived in on-campus accommodation had reduced levels of physical activity and mental health than those who lived in off-campus accomodation. The findings from study one and two contribute towards the growing evidence surrounding the physical activity levels and mental health behaviours of young adults, specifically looking at the Scottish University student population. Thus providing researchers and health care professionals with the appropriate information in order to implement suitable interventions to encourage better health behaviours among this specific population.
Date of Award7 Oct 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsHeriot-Watt University

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