chapter  9
University students’ social iden tity and health beha viours
ByJoanne R. Smith, Winnifred R. Louis, Mark Tarrant
Pages 17

Information on the actions required for a healthy life style is abund ant. We are informed by health profes sion als, govern ment agen cies, super mar kets and food produ cers and even by family and friends that, for example, we should consume at least five portions of fruit and veget ables daily, that we should limit our sugar intake, that we should engage in at least 150 minutes of moder ate exer cise each week, that we should limit our alcohol consump tion and have alcohol­ free days, and that we should prac tise safe sex. If there is one group that we might hope would not only possess but also act upon this know ledge, it would be univer sity students. It is a reas on able assump tion that the young people who enter univer sity are not only intel li gent but also have the ability to engage in the goal­ direc ted actions required for a healthy life style. Unfortunately, however, this does not appear to be the case. Indeed, Steptoe et al. (2002) found a lack of progress towards health ier beha viour among students over a period in which health inform a tion was more widely access ible (1990-2000) and a corres pond ing decline in the strength of beliefs about the import ance of main tain ing a healthy life style. Other research has found that students’ engage ment in health beha viours actu ally declines over the course of their studies, with students in later years of univer sity becom ing more likely to engage in a range of harmful prac tices such as smoking, alcohol consump tion, unsafe sex and drink driving (de Franco and Colares, 2008). Moreover, in the case of alcohol consump tion, univer sity students are more likely than their non­ student peers to engage in excess and harmful alcohol consump tion (e.g., in the UK context, Gill, 2002). Thus, we might wonder why, if students are so smart, they do so many dumb (health­ related) things?