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Learn how to help college students take control of their health

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Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:34 am, Mon Jul 28, 2014.

(BPT) - College may provide the first opportunity for many young adults to make important health decisions for themselves. In its Healthy Campus 2020 objectives, the American College Health Association’s Healthy Campus Coalition highlights a number of important topics for improving the health of college students, including vaccine-preventable diseases, nutrition and physical activity, substance abuse, mental health, and sexually transmitted diseases.

“College is an excellent opportunity for young adults to begin to take ownership of their health, especially as we know this population can experience an increase in mental health concerns,” says Dr. Vaughn Rickert, psychologist and professor of pediatrics and the Donald P. Orr chair in adolescent medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine and Riley Hospital for Children. “Helping teens be proactive about managing their health during this time can help establish positive health habits in addressing any concern as soon as it's recognized.”

Once teens start college, their eating, exercising and general health habits may change. One way to help maintain good health is for teens and young adults to get vaccinated. Vaccines to help prevent against HPV, flu and tetanus are recommended for college students and young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some states may require students entering college to be vaccinated against certain diseases, such as meningitis. It is important that teens discuss these recommended vaccines with their doctor during their annual checkup.

In addition, there are other steps students can take, such as eating right and exercising on a regular basis, that may help them maintain good health. According to the CDC, healthy nutrition starts with eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and balancing high calorie foods with healthier ones. Establishing an exercise routine can also help build and maintain healthy bones and muscles while reducing the risk of obesity, and developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“During college, teens may begin to make new friends and celebrate new accomplishments,” says Dr. Rickert. “It is possible that alcohol will be present during these celebrations and social gatherings. Teens need to understand the importance of making responsible choices.” Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, according to the CDC. Underage drinking increases the risk of physical assault, school problems and abuse of other drugs.

College can also be overwhelming and stressful. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are common mental health issues on college campuses. Many campuses run a suicide prevention hotline, which can be the first step in seeking support. Students can also visit the campus health center or a nearby clinic.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are another important issue many young adults can face during college. Nearly half of the 20 million new STDs diagnosed each year are among young people aged 15 to 24 years. Latex condoms can reduce the risk of transmission of some STDs when used consistently and correctly.

College students can discuss these important health topics with their doctor during their annual checkup. The best place to go for health services is a regular health care provider, according to the CDC. However, if a college student does not have one, they may be able to visit the on-campus clinic for a checkup.

Parents may also consider scheduling their teen’s annual checkup while their teen is home from college for a holiday or semester break. MyTeensHealth.com offers tips and resources to help ensure parents are prepared to help their teens stay healthy during college, including a checklist for their teen’s annual wellness visit.

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