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Health Services Research & Development

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2009 HSR&D National Meeting Abstract

National Meeting 2009

3115 — Obesity and Weight-Related Risks among Veterans Attending College

Widome R (Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research (CCDOR), Minneapolis VAMC), Lust K (Boynton Health Service, University of Minnesota), Nelson MC (University of Minnesota)

While active duty members of the military are held to weight and fitness standards, post-deployment, young veterans live in a comparatively unstructured environment. The population of veterans attending college is rapidly growing as veterans return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, little is known about the weight issues and behaviors of student veterans. Our objective was to describe obesity prevalence, as well as the behavioral correlates of obesity (such as nutrition, physical activity, etc.), in the population of veterans attending college.

Students at 15 colleges and universities (included public, private, 2-year, and 4-year programs) in Minnesota were recruited to participate in the 2008 College Student Health Survey (CSHS). Developed by Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota, the CSHS was designed to serve as a surveillance tool to monitor the health of post-secondary students. All 1,901 students who had been identified as veterans by their institutions were invited to participate. There were 813 completed surveys from veterans received, yielding a response rate of 42.8%. All results are self-reported from the CSHS survey.

The average age of the sample was 29.5, 74.4% were male, and 90.7% identified as Caucasian/white. More than two-thirds of male veterans (68.7%) and 47.3% of female veterans were classified as either overweight or obese. Few respondents reported eating the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day (14% of males, 19.9% of females). A high prevalence of both active and sedentary behaviors were reported, with 66.4% of veterans meeting the CDC’s recommendations for physical activity and 67.7% reporting two or more hours of screen time per day. On average, male and female veterans reported drinking 6.5 and 2.8 drinks per week, respectively.

Overweight and obesity among veterans attending college is highly prevalent. Student veterans face multiple weight-related risks that are potentially modifiable. Future research is needed to examine the contextual influences of weight-related behaviors among college-going veterans.

There is an opportunity to implement preventive medicine interventions, in partnership with college health services, which promote healthy weight behaviors and reduce the future burden of chronic disease on the current young adult veteran population.

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