The aim of our research is to investigate the lifestyles of traditional age university undergraduate students, in order to find out the extent of their healthy lifestyles. To further specify the aim of our research we developed the following research question and subsidiary questions:
Do university undergraduate students live a healthy lifestyle?
To what extent do university undergraduate students meet the government standards regarding healthy lifestyles?
How do healthy lifestyles vary between university undergraduate students living at home and in student accommodation?
What are university undergraduate students views on healthy lifestyles?
We realise that within these questions there are some ambiguous terminology which need to be defined. To define ‘healthy lifestyles’ we will use the government standards. The government standards place large emphasis on the consumption of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day; therefore we will ask participants to list the food and drink they had on a ‘typical day’ and from this infer the amount of fruit and vegetables they have per day (Food Standard Agency 2010). Additionally, government standards recommend that people should exercise for 30 minutes 3-5 days per week (BBC News Health 2007), not smoke or give up smoking and remain within the alcohol consumption limits: women can drink 2 to 3 units per day and men can drink 3 to 4 (Food Standard Agency 2010). For the purpose of this research we will use the average of 3 units. We will use these four guidelines to analyse our results in order to answer our first subsidiary question.
‘Living at home’ refers to students who have not moved away from home and live in a family home. ‘Student accommodation’ refers to students who live in catered or self catered university halls or a privately rented student house or flat.
From our three subsidiary questions we generated three hypotheses which are as follows:
Hypothesis 1: We predict that university undergraduate students living at home will live a healthier lifestyle than university undergraduate students living in student accommodation in terms of food consumption and alcohol intake.
Hypothesis 2: We predict that university undergraduate students living in student accommodation will live a healthier lifestyle than university undergraduate students living at home in terms of exercise.
Hypothesis 3: We predict that university undergraduate students will not meet government standards regarding healthy lifestyles.
Data Collection Method
To collect our data regarding the healthy lifestyles of university undergraduate students we will use a questionnaire. As questionnaires are a versatile tool they can take a variety of forms (Thomas 2009). Therefore, we can design a questionnaire to suit the needs of our research question, enabling us to structure a questionnaire that will be suitable for undergraduate students. As undergraduate students may be busy and have little time to spare to complete a questionnaire, we will ensure our questionnaire is short in length, taking no longer than half an hour to complete and mainly contain closed questions with pre-coded answers, enabling participants to answer quickly (Gilbert 2008). This use of closed questions will be advantageous as they will provide factual information which is predominantly what we are seeking, and this will also make our analysis and comparisons easier as participants’ responses can be easily entered into a computer (Gilbert 2008). Additionally, due to the nature of our research, our questionnaire aims to collect information regarding ‘how much’ students do particular things, which can be problematic to measure. However, the use of pre-coded answers such as: ranking scales, the Likert scale, multiple choices and ranges, will be advantageous as they are likely to make such questions easier to answer (Gilbert 2008). We will also include some open questions as some questions will require more discursive responses. This will be advantageous as we can gain a deeper insight into certain aspects of students’ lifestyles (Thomas 2009). However, as open questions allow participants to answer how they wish, this is likely to make analysis difficult due to problems with categorising responses and possible responses being ambiguous (Gilbert 2008). Therefore, we will keep the use of open questions to a minimum; which in turn may reduce participants’ time spent completing the questionnaire and our time analysing the responses. Further advantages of questionnaires are that we can survey a large number of undergraduate students quickly and cheaply, which is beneficial for us as we have financial and time constraints (Gilbert 2008).
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However, a disadvantage of questionnaires is that they often suffer a low response rate (Gilbert 2008). This could be a particular problem with our sample being undergraduate students who, as previously suggested, may have little time to spare to complete our questionnaire. However, we aim to overcome this by staying with the majority of participants while they complete our questionnaire. A further disadvantage could be through our predominate use of pre-coded answers. If we do not offer enough answer options this could result in pigeon holing participants into answering in a certain way, which could produce unreliable responses. To overcome this, we aim to incorporate ‘not sure’ and ‘other’ options into necessary questions and if we feel more information is needed to explain participants reasoning behind their responses we will ask this below the question. Furthermore, we need to be aware of ‘prestige bias.’ Most participants want to look good in the eyes of the researcher therefore; participants may exaggerate or underestimate their responses (Thomas 2009). This may be a particular concern for our research as participants may exaggerate how healthy their lifestyle is. Therefore, to possibly limit this problem we will ask participants to list everything they ate and drank on their last ‘typical day’, rather than just asking how many portions of fruit and vegetables they had.
Our research sample will consist of 50 university undergraduate students of traditional student age, 18-23 years old. Our reasoning behind this age range is that we want to look at those students who are living independently for the first time, excluding the mature students for whom this may not be the case.
We will use a convenience sample as our sampling method and if required we will also use a snow-ball sample. Convenience sampling is a non-probability sample in which participants are selected due to their convenient accessibility and proximity to the researcher (Castillo 2009). This will be advantageous to us as we have time and financial constraints. However, the downside to this is sampling bias. The participants we select will mainly be our friends so are likely to share similar characteristics therefore; they may not be representative of the entire undergraduate student population (Castillo 2009). We do however aim to seek as much diversity as possible within participants, as between the three administrators of this study we all have different connections within university. For example: with students on other courses, in other years and in various societies; so this will help us to broaden our range of participant’s university experiences. A snowball sample is also a non-probability sample which is used to locate potential participants in a study where participants are hard to find (Castillo 2009). We will therefore use this sampling method if we are struggling to locate willing participants, as this will enable us to identify potential participants through our existing participants using a chain referral process (Castillo 2009).
Prior to our data collection we will complete an ethics form. To gain consent from participants we will incorporate a brief at the beginning of our questionnaire informing participants of the nature of our research, who we are and why we are conducting the research, their right to with-draw and that their responses will remain anonymous and confidential.
Reliability and Validity
To ensure reliability we need to know that we would be able to retrieve similar results from participants on any day (Gilbert 2008). This is problematic for us as we are looking at ‘how much’ students do particular things. Therefore, to ensure some reliability we will ask participants to answer certain questions based on a ‘typical, average day’, and from this we will have to assume that the participants’ answer reflects a ‘typical day’ for them. An example of this can be seen in our pilot study in which a participant answered that they had ‘a large bowl of Frosties and orange juice’ for breakfast. Therefore, we would have to assume that this is a ‘typical’ everyday breakfast for this participant.
In terms of maintaining validity we aim to ensure that all of our questions are wholly focused on our research to make sure that we measure what we intend to measure (Gilbert 2008). Validity could be a particular issue with our study, as according to Gilbert (2008) when questioning participants on their alcohol intake there is a tendency to under-report their intake. As this is something we aim to measure we will ensure we are cautious when phrasing our questions as to attempt to reduce this problem.
We conducted a pilot questionnaire on people of the same population that we aim to study, in order to determine whether our questions were clear and coded-answers were sufficient (Gilbert 2008). For example, due to the feedback we received from our pilot questionnaire we made changes to the pre-coded answers of questions 13 and 14. Participants felt the ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘don’t know’ answer options pigeon holed them into answering in a certain way; therefore we changed these to scales of 0-10.
(See appendix A and B for the pilot questionnaire and final questionnaire, where other changes are evident)
Findings and Discussion
(Tables that correspond to the graphs are in Appendix C)
The above graphs show that for both students who live away at university and students who live at home, 20% consume five or more pieces of fruit and vegetables per day. Therefore, according to the government standards, these students are leading a healthy life in terms of their diet. Consequently, the majority, 80%, of both home and away students do not meet the government’s standards of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, and therefore would be categorised as unhealthy in terms of their diet. Thus, these results are not consistent with our first hypothesis, that students living at home will lead a healthier lifestyle in terms of food consumption. However, it does support our third hypothesis that undergraduate students will not meet the government standards, and suggests that their place of residence does not affect their diet in terms of fruit and vegetable consumption.
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However, there were issues with the analysis of the responses to this question. As this was an open question this meant that participants could answer how they wish; and as a result some participants provided minimal details making it difficult to deduce how many portions of fruit and vegetables participants had. For example: some participants said they simply had pasta, yet others said they had pasta and explained what they had in this meal such as peppers, mushrooms. In such a case, we would have had to say that the participant that just said ‘pasta’ did not have any fruit or vegetables in this meal. As a result, some participants were recorded in the results as having eaten no fruit or vegetables per day and consequently the same for a week, yet it is unlikely that this would be the case. For this question, we would have benefited from conducting interviews as a secondary form of data collection, so that our results could have been more insightful and reliable.
The above graphs suggest that students who live at home are healthier than students who live away at university in terms of alcohol intake. This is seen through 32% of home participants consuming 0-3 units of alcohol per day compared to 8% of away participants. Therefore, according to the government standards of consuming on average 3 units per day, more students who live at home would be categorised as healthy in terms of alcohol intake. These findings confirm our first hypothesis, that students living at home will lead a healthier lifestyle in terms of alcohol intake. It could be suggested that the students’ who live away at university show higher levels of alcohol intake as they are closer to university and therefore, they are possibly closer to social events which may provide them with more opportunities to consume alcohol.
(N.B: To measure the alcohol units each participant consumed we used an alcohol unit calculator available at www.drinkaware.co.uk)
These graphs shows that generally both students living at home and living away at university do not smoke, which suggests that students’ place of residence does not have an effect on smoking. Therefore, students living at home and living away at university generally meet the government standard of not smoking so would be considered as being healthy with regards to smoking, which would challenge our third hypothesis.
The above graphs suggest that students living away at university are healthier than students living at home in terms of hours of exercise. 76% of students living away at university participate in ‘up to 2 hours’ plus of exercise, compared to 52% of students living at home. Therefore, more students living away at university would be categorised as healthy, in terms of exercise, according to the government standard of 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 days a week. This is consistent with our second hypothesis, that students living away at university will lead a healthier lifestyle than those living at home in terms of exercise. It is possible that this is due to these students being closer to university and therefore, university facilities and clubs/societies are in ease of access, whereas students living at home would have to travel for such facilities.
The above graph shows that students who live away at university participate in a wider range of exercising activities than students who live at home. This finding links to the finding in the previous graphs as these highlighted that students living away at university do more exercise than students living at home. Therefore, a significant trend is evident in that students living away at university are healthier in terms of exercise, as they participate in more exercise and are involved in a wider range of exercising activities compared to those who live at home. As stated with the previous graphs, this is possibly due to the ease of access these students have to university facilities/societies. This is reflected in the above graph as the participation at university courts, gym and swimming pool is higher or only used by those students who live away at university.
This graph shows that both students living at home and living away at university are fairly consistent in the view that it is important to live a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, this suggests that student’s place of residence does not have a major effect on their views on healthy lifestyles. However, these results are inconsistent with the rest of our results shown above, as our findings generally show that both students living at home and away at university are not healthy across all of the four government standards. This suggests that, despite these undergraduate students thinking it is important to live a healthy lifestyle; on paper there is evidence to suggest that actually they do not live a completely healthy lifestyle.
This graph suggests that both students living at home and away at university share the view that they are not too young to be concerned with living a healthy lifestyle. 64% of students living at home and 60% of students living away at university disagree with the statement. Like the findings above, this suggests that where students live does not affect their views and highlights infrequency between undergraduate students’ views and their actions regarding living healthily.
This graph suggests that students living away at university are more positive about the effort the government puts into promoting healthy lifestyles. This can be seen in the government effort being rated at 6 by 44% of students living away at university compared to 20% of students living at home. However, the rating of 6 is not very positive so implies that overall there is not a largely positive view of the government effort from these undergraduate students. This possibly highlights a need for improvement in the governments’ promotion of healthy lifestyles.
This graph shows that 64% of students living at home and 60% of students living away at university rated their lifestyle as being healthy on the scale at 6 and above. One can extrapolate from this that over half of the students altogether think they live a healthy lifestyle. However, this highlights an inconsistency between how these undergraduate students feel about the healthy extent of their lifestyles and how healthy they appear on paper, as our findings generally suggest that our sample of undergraduate students do not live a completely healthy lifestyle.
Overall, to summarise our findings, it can be suggested in reflection of our research question, that our sample of undergraduate students tend not to live a healthy lifestyle. This can be seen in more detail in reflection on our subsidiary questions. With reference to our first subsidiary question, our findings suggest that our sample of undergraduate students only meet the government standards regarding healthy lifestyles to a small extent. This can be seen through our participants tending not to meet all four of the government standards. Our findings suggest there is a tendency for students who live away at university to participate in a lot of exercise, yet they rate highly on alcohol intake. For the students who live at home they tend to rate low in terms of alcohol intake, yet they participate in fewer hours of exercise. Therefore, in light of our second subsidiary question, this suggests that our sample of undergraduate students vary in their alcohol intake and hours or exercise; yet tend to be similar in their consumption of fruit and vegetables and smoking tendencies. With regards to our third subsidiary question, our findings suggest that our sample of undergraduate students share similar views concerning healthy lifestyles. However, interestingly their views tend not to reflect their actions. There was a tendency for our sample to think that it is important to live a healthy lifestyle and they believe they live healthily, yet our findings suggest they do not live completely healthily.
Therefore, it can be seen that our research successfully provided us with answers to our research question, subsidiary questions and hypotheses. However, when reflecting on our research it is evident that we encountered problems and that there is room for improvement if the research was to be conducted again.
As previously stated, we encountered problems concerning how participants’ responded to our question regarding what food and drink they consumed on a ‘typical day’. Therefore, to improve our research we could benefit from conducting interviews after the questionnaires, as this would enable us to probe for more details so that we would not be faced with the problem of participants not being specific enough. Furthermore, using observation could also improve our research, as through this we could check the reliability of participants’ responses, especially as the nature of our topic could be open to prestige bias and under-reporting. Another problem we faced was that some participants found the term ‘typical night out’ ambiguous. For some participants this meant a ‘night out at the pub’ yet for others it meant a ‘night out at a night club’; and consequently these different types of ‘nights out’ affected the amount of alcohol they consumed. Therefore, if we were to conduct this research again, we would need to ask participants to specify the type of night out that is ‘typical’ for them or ask them to answer the question based on both contrasting types of ‘night out’. In addition to this, our use of convenience sampling meant that the majority of our participants were people we knew, and as a result may have reflected similar characteristics. Thus, to improve our research it may be advantageous to use a stratified sample and a larger sample size in order to enhance our representation.
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