College Health and Safety

students on a campus

There are all kinds of tests in college–beyond those you take for a grade. Examples include

  • Social and sexual pressures.
  • The temptation of readily available alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy food.
  • The challenge of getting enough sleep.
  • Stress from trying to balance classes, friends, homework, jobs, athletics, and leadership positions.

The following tips and information can help you stay safe and healthy in college.

Move It

You should get at least 2½ hours of physical activity a week. Regular activity helps improve your overall health and fitness. It also reduces your risk for many chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Find something you enjoy, such as jogging or running, dancing, or playing sports.

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Balance Your Diet

Fruits and vegetables are a natural source of energy and are the best eat-on-the-go foods. Eat regular healthy meals to help keep up your energy. Cafeterias, all-you-can-eat dining facilities, vending machines, and easy access to food 24 hours a day make it tempting to overeat or choose foods loaded with calories, saturated fat, sugar, and salt. Or, on the other hand, you may not eat enough because of stress or other reasons. If you are concerned about your weight, talk with your health care provider about diet, physical activity, and other issues you are concerned about.

Eating disorders are serious medical problems and are more common in females than males. Although they are marked by severe disturbances in eating behavior, they are more than just a problem with food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are all types of eating disorders. Eating disorders often develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but can occur during childhood or later in adulthood.

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Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Nearly half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) diagnosed each year are among young people aged 15–24 years. Women can have long term effects of these diseases, including pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, tubal scarring, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain. About 1 in 4 (26 percent) of all new HIV infections is among youth ages 13 to 24 years. About 4 in 5 of these infections occur in males.

Quick Tips:
  • If you are a sexually active female aged 25 years or younger, get tested every year for chlamydia. If left untreated, chlamydia can affect your ability to have children.
  • If you are diagnosed with an STD, notify your sex partners so they can be tested and receive treatment if needed. If your sex partner is diagnosed with an STD, you need to be evaluated, tested, and treated.
  • The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of STDs, including HIV infection, are to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.
  • Latex male and female condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission of some STDs.

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Get Vaccinated

Protection from some childhood vaccines can wear off over time. Vaccinations are needed throughout your adult life to help you stay healthy. Be sure to ask your health care provider about getting vaccinated against meningitis, human papillomavirus (HPV), whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus, flu, and other diseases. You can also take this simple quiz to determine which vaccines you need and create a printout to take to your next health care appointment.

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Get Adequate Sleep

Quick Tips:
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime.
  • Have a good sleeping environment. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and relaxing.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends.
  • Avoid pulling an all-nighter to study.
  • See your health care provider if you continue to have trouble sleeping.

It’s a challenge in college to pull late-nighters studying and still get enough sleep to function.

Adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day, although individual needs vary. Lack of sleep can be a risk factor for many chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and depression. Students who work or study long hours may not get enough sleep at night. As a result, they may be sleepy and sluggish during the day and have trouble concentrating, participating in class, taking tests, or making decisions. Sleepiness can also cause car and machinery-related crashes, which cause significant rates of injury and disability each year. Driving while sleepy can be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Both are preventable!

Maintain Mental Health

group of students in a classroom

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, and can help you deal with a tense situation, study harder for an exam, or keep your focus during an important speech. But if you cannot shake your worries and concerns, or if the feelings make you want to avoid everyday activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Everybody has the blues, feels anxious, or gets stressed at times. But depression is more than a bad day. Depression often goes unrecognized and untreated and may lead to tragic results, such as suicide. For youth between ages 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Suicide is a serious–but preventable–problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities.

Quick Tips:
  • Develop a support network of friends. Campus and extracurricular activities such as athletics and student clubs are great ways to meet new friends.
  • If you have concerns about your study habits or coursework load, talk with teachers, counselors, family members, and friends for advice and support.
  • Stay active. Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp. It can also reduce your risk for depression, and it may help you sleep better.
  • Visit your school or local health clinic, and discuss your concerns with a health professional. If the health professional advises treatment, follow instructions. Attend follow-up appointments to track your progress, and watch for side effects from any medications that may be prescribed.
  • If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, get help from a counselor or health care provider. Call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Avoid Harmful Substances

Quick Tips:
  • Work with campus leaders to increase the availability of healthy activities and safe places on campus to meet with friends.
  • If you’re concerned about your or someone else’s use of alcohol or other drugs, ask for help from your parents, resident advisor, faculty advisor, or a health care provider or counselor at your school or local health clinic.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke. It is just as harmful as if you were smoking yourself.
  • Don’t drive after drinking or using drugs.
  • Don’t ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking or using drugs.
  • Don’t drink alcohol if there is any chance you could be pregnant.

Some college students have a lot of pressure to use alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, especially when trying to make friends and become part of a group. Drinking on college campuses is more widespread than many people may realize. College students commonly binge drink, which for men is defined as having five or more drinks, and for women, four or more drinks, on an occasion.

Alcohol and other drug use among young people are major public health problems in the United States. Substance use and abuse can increase the chances for fatal and nonfatal injuries, sexual violence, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Educate Yourself on Campus Security

Know Help Numbers for Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is a significant problem in the United States. SV refers to sexual activity where consent is not obtained or freely given. Anyone can experience SV, but most victims are female. The person responsible for the violence is typically male and is usually someone known to the victim. The person can be, but is not limited to, a friend, coworker, neighbor, or family member.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence and needs help, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or your local emergency service at 9-1-1.

Hotlines to Call for Help

Call the following numbers for health and safety information:

  • Emergency

CDC Health Topics (Immunizations, STDs, and more)
800-CDC-INFO (232-4636)

Find Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment
800-662-HELP (4357)

National Domestic Violence Hotline
800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
800-273-TALK (8255)

National Sexual Assault Hotline
800-656-HOPE (4673)

Page last reviewed: August 9, 2016