Health Buzz: College Freshmen Report Record-High Stress

Why healthy habits are hard to maintain; shape up with a new video game workout.

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College Freshmen Feel Overwhelmed Emotionally, Financially

College students are reporting record-high stress, according to a national survey conducted annually for 25 years. Today's freshmen feel more overwhelmed than their predecessors did. Two of their greatest sources of stress are crushing tuition expenses and unemployed parents. Researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles surveyed more than 200,000 freshmen at nearly 300 U.S. colleges, and found that only 50 percent rated their emotional health as being above average or higher. That's down about 4 percentage points from last year and represents the lowest ratings since the survey began. "What it means is that going into college, students are already feeling more stress and feeling more overwhelmed and have lower emotional reserves to deal with that stress," lead author John Pryor told The Los Angeles Times. The survey also found a gender gap: About 46 percent of women described themselves as emotionally strong, compared to 59 percent of the men.

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  • Healthy Habits Are Hard to Maintain—Even if You Know What Lies Ahead

    It's the time of year when we start letting go of all those promises we make to ourselves year after year to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, to spend 30 minutes in the gym each day, or to start a walking program. Breaking unhealthy habits and starting healthy ones is hard, and most people require several attempts to succeed, family physician Kenny Lin writes for U.S. News. There's good evidence that even multiple intensive lifestyle counseling sessions led by trained professionals are only mildly helpful.

    Compounding matters is the fact that every individual is different. You probably know people who've lived to ripe old ages in perfect health despite having eaten eggs every day of their lives or not exercising. Some researchers have suggested that a more effective way to motivate patients to change their lifestyles could be to give them personalized information about their risk for common chronic conditions such as cancer and heart disease. Others, though, have worried that this knowledge could encourage complacency among those who learn they're at below-average risk. Why quit smoking, for example, if you think your genes will protect you from lung cancer?

    Two recent studies have investigated. The first study, published in the January issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, randomly assigned about 4,000 primary care patients ages 35 to 65 to either a Web-based tool that used patient-provided health and family history information to give tailored lifestyle recommendations, or a generic prevention message. After six months, those who received the personalized messages were more likely than the generic-prevention group to consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily and exercise for 30 minutes at least five times per week. Perplexingly, the personalized intervention actually made patients less likely to get their cholesterol level checked, and it had no impact on whether they quit smoking or got their blood pressure or blood sugar levels measured. [Read more: Healthy Habits Are Hard to Maintain—Even if You Know What Lies Ahead.]

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    • Shape Up With a New Video Game Workout

      Health advocates have long decried video games for contributing to a sedentary culture. While those stereotypes might still hold true for some, many families' game consoles are fast becoming as suitable for the exercise room as for the den, U.S. News's Brian Burnsed reports.

      Microsoft's new Kinect peripheral for the popular Xbox 360 video game console uses the whole body as the controller and can be an effective, fun fitness tool. A camera tracks body movements to manipulate the action on the screen. For example, in the boxing mode for the game Kinect Sports, you throw real punches that are mirrored by your onscreen avatar in a digital boxing ring. Other games allow you to dance, drive a car, or negotiate obstacle courses. The system forces users to be active, burning calories as they play.