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ISSUE 119 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/4/2005

Survey shows health, happiness

By Kelly Wilson
Staff Writer

Friday, November 4, 2005

The St. Olaf administration recently brought to public attention the results of the 2004 National College Health Assessment (NCHA), an American College Health Association (ACHA) study. The assessment, which consisted of questions designed to reveal the level of health among college students, reflected a healthy student body at St. Olaf.

The NCHA survey concentrated on risky student behaviors ranging from frequency of wearing a seat belt during the past school year, to the incidence of marijuana use within a 30-day period.

Approximately 1400 St. Olaf students responded to the spring 2004 mail survey, and these results were compared to national statistics taken from a 2003 study.

The results reported an average to above-average level of health, relative to the national statistics. 72.1 percent of St. Olaf students (74 percent males, 71.5 percent females) described their health as "very good or excellent," compared to 62.7 percent of national students.

While 9.6 percent of St. Olaf students experienced streptococcus within the past year, 12.6 percent of students nationally reported the same. A little over 13 percent of St. Olaf students recounted more than one sexual partner in the past year, with 25.3 percent of national responses stating likewise.

Anxiety disorders were 0.6 percent higher among St. Olaf students, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) was 4.1 percent higher among St. Olaf students as well, which could be attributed to regional factors.

Approximately 48 percent of St. Olaf students experienced back pain within the past year, compared to 44.2 percent nationally. General depression, anorexia, bulimia and substance abuse, however, were all lower than national averages.

St. Olaf had previously conducted the Core survey, established at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, every other year for 17 years. This national study concentrated only on alcohol and drug related questions.

Consequently, the administration realized that student health involved a much broader range of issues that the Core study did not address, such as behaviors that indicated high health risks. With Dean of Students Greg Kneser acting as catalyst for the change, the NCHA was adopted in spring of 2004.

The study will be implemented every other spring hereafter, largely due to the validity and relevance of the results.

"These answers are really important for us to know," Kneser said. "We wanted to respond to real risks."

Student responses to the survey, however, displayed a lack of awareness and a general level of doubt concerning its results.

"I'’m kind of torn between whether or not the stats are completely accurate," Elizabeth Frosch '07 said. "I think we come out as higher than [the national average], so I guess it’s a happy healthy campus … or are we?"

Frosch cited her concern about how all-encompassing the results of the test are perceived to be.

"Who are the people that came forward and took the quiz?" Frosch said. "You’re never going to get an accurate representation of the student body."

Other students attributed the differences to St. Olaf's unique student population.

"I do think St. Olaf presents, as a whole, a different vibe than many colleges across the country," Sara Egeland ’07 said. "St. Olaf students could, in reality, be healthier than average college students as the survey says, but ultimately I do not know. If the survey is correct, though, I think this is a good thing."

Kneser supported the opinion that the survey displayed positive information. "We have healthy people, people that perceive themselves as healthy," he said.

He also responded to doubts about the survey’s legitimacy.

"This was not a [public relations] tool," Kneser said. "We are not withholding anything. This is a real snapshot of who we are. Good, bad or otherwise: We needed to do this. The point is to gauge student health and respond accordingly."

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