While the youth of today is probably more health-conscious than any generation before them, the pressure of university life can still push students to ignore their own health. Young people are also more likely to underestimate the long-term consequences of neglecting their health.
After all, health is one of those things people tend to value only when it’s gone, and young students are less likely to have dealt with a health issue in the past. And while there is a certain expectation that university students should be mature enough to take care of themselves, it will help for campus staff and administration to put together measures to help students take care of their health.
This help can take two primary forms, which are (1) encouraging students to maintain their own health and (2) helping students get regular checkups from healthcare professionals.
Most students leave high school with a vague sense of what is right when it comes to self-care. They know they should brush and floss, they know they should get some exercise done, and they know they should “eat healthy”, although they are probably unsure of the details of how to achieve all of the above.
College is a good time for them to learn the details, both of what they are supposed to do and what the consequences are if they don’t. The latter is crucial because it’s hard to take something seriously when you aren’t aware of the consequences.
Take oral health as an example. Most students will know that if they fail to take proper care of their teeth and mouth they will probably need dental work done. What they probably do not know is that dental work leads to more dental work. Repairs made by dentists last somewhere between 5 and 20 years, after which you need more dental work to get the dental work fixed again. Dental work can also increase the wear and tear between the teeth, leading to more dental work down the line.
In other words, a student who takes terrible care of their oral health in their 20s might be dooming themselves to a lifetime of endless dental appointments, discomfort, health problems, and — of course — dealing with a ton of dental costs. And that’s without even mentioning the long-term consequences associated with gum diseases, which afflicts over 40% of adults over the age of 30, and makes people more prone to suffer from diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and more because bacteria living in your gums often finds its way into your bloodstream.
And students don’t know any of that. People tend to skip these details when explaining things to children, and adults don’t often discuss these topics.
Exercise and dieting have similar details and realities worth delving into. Like how lack of exercise makes people more prone to hormonal problems, or how the longer you stay on a sugar-rich diet the harder it will be to deal with food cravings once a student does decide to change their eating habits.
These and other basic types of information can all be made available to students on a simple self-care manual or leaflet, or just be explained in one big lecture for each class for college freshmen. Information can be a great source of motivation when it comes to encouraging people to be healthier.
People of all ages need regular checkups to take proper care of their health and catch health issues early. Getting a proper checkup and cleaning from a dentist can prevent long-term issues, and blood work can help doctors catch all sorts of diseases in their early stages. Therefore, it is important to encourage students to get these checkups at regular intervals.
Encouragement can be as simple as sending out an email every six months reminding students to set appointments for their checkups. As for getting students in touch with professionals, it’s a good idea to have the contact information of local professionals at hand, as students who are from out of town might not even know where to start looking.
It is also wise to have tools available to assist students in finding affordable dental care and healthcare in general. Money is another big barrier for students looking to get checkups, so if there are any government programs or NGO initiatives in place to help low-income students get tests and treatment, it’s a good idea to publicize them on campus and make them easy to find.
Of course, none of the ideas in this article will have a 100% success rate. But even if only a handful of students end up changing their behavior due to these efforts every year, that can still amount to a lot of people living healthier lives over the years.
And again, university students are adults. It is within their rights to choose not to care for themselves as well as they could. But it is important that they know they could do better and what will happen if they don’t. After all, choices made based on incomplete knowledge are barely choices at all. Health is our most important asset; everyone should be taught how to protect it.