Health & Safety Tips for College Students

college student diverse groupDo you have a college-bound student in your household? You’re not alone. College attendance has spiked, with 20.2 million students planning to attend colleges and universities in the U.S. during the fall of 2015. That’s up 5 million from five years ago, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

5 Safety Tips From CDC

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips for college students and their families:

  1. Nutrition: The CDC’s prescription for wellness includes a healthy diet and exercise. Develop a balanced meal plan with items from the basic food groups. Avoid sugary soft drinks and other beverages that may be packed with extra calories and lead to short- or long-term health problems.
  2. Fitness: The CDC recommends at least 2.5 hours of exercise for college students and adults. “Be creative about ways to get in exercise like walking across campus instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and working out with a friend, group or joining an intramural sports team,” the CDC says.
  3. Stress management: Adequate sleep, social connections and relaxation can help students manage stress. “Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among persons aged 15 to 24 years. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255,” the CDC says.
  4. Safety concerns: Campus sexual assaults and other violence have been linked to drinking. The CDC defines binge drinking as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in a short period, and binge drinking accounts for 90 percent of underage alcohol consumption, according to federal data. “Binge drinking is a factor that increases your chances for risky sexual behavior, unintended pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, car crashes, violence, and alcohol poisoning,” the CDC says.
  5. Tobacco, drugs and substance abuse: “Smoking and substance abuse are problems among young people,” the CDC says. Here are the facts:
  • About 21 percent of people ages 18-25 said they had used illicit drugs in the past month, in a 2013 survey reported by the CDC.
  • Heroin use has more than doubled during the past 10 years in the 18-to-25 age group.
  • The CDC reports that 99 percent of cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 26.
  • Electronic cigarettes and vapors, especially fruit-flavored products, have led to an increase use of traditional tobacco and nicotine products by teens.
Tips for Parents:
  • Inform: “Parents should educate their young adults about the dangers of substance abuse, including binge drinking,” says Veronica Garcia, program manager at South Miami Hospital Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center. “Underage students shouldn’t be drinking, but if they go to a party where alcohol is served, you want them to know about the risks of binge drinking.”
  • Track academic performance: Missed classes, falling grades and the need to withdraw or repeat classes could be signs of emotional trouble or substance abuse, Ms. Garcia says. She notes that 25 percent of college students report missing a class, falling behind or doing poorly on a test because of drinking or partying.
  • Recognize other red flags: Dramatic changes in appearance, extreme weight loss or gain, change in communication style or frequency, or social isolation could all be signs of mental, emotional or physical problems, including depression, anxiety or substance abuse, Ms. Garcia says.
  • Identify campus resources: Most college campuses offer counseling services. Make sure that you and your child are aware of the range of health services, including mental health counseling, provided by the school.
  • Set up a support team: If your child has a pre-existing health concern or has been treated for depression/anxiety, build a support team on campus and establish a smooth transition before the semester gets too far underway. “Don’t wait for a crisis to arise to set up a system,” Ms. Garcia says.
  • Manage your own anxiety: Be self-aware and recognize when your own anxieties about a college-bound child are contributing to or creating difficulties, Ms. Garcia says.
  • Get involved: Attend college events that are open to parents, especially during orientation week. Look out for open-house campus activities during the rest of the year. If your child will be living on campus, meet the dorm resident advisor and roommates. Get contact information.

“Don’t be overly vigilant, but get contact information should you need it. Give children independence, but maintain support,” she says.

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