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Why did we explore wellness for UCLA students?

As part of a partnership with the Healthy Campus Initiative, in 2014 SAIRO endeavored to explore undergraduate and graduate students’ overall wellness and health related experiences through an extended set of questions included in the Spring 2014 administration of the Student Affairs Graduate and Professional Student Survey (GPSS) and University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES). Both surveys were administered online to all currently enrolled students in each population. The surveys included an identical set of health and wellness questions designed to better understand students’ perceptions of their own physical health, diet, meal patterns, sleep, stress and overall mental health.

The wellness series briefs provide insight on the wellness experiences of UCLA undergraduate and graduate and professional students. It is important to understand students’ wellness given its connection to students’ educational experiences and academic success. The overall analysis of the data included comparisons within each population (undergraduate and graduate/professional) by gender and race/ethnicity, as well as some comparisons of the undergraduate and graduate populations as a whole. The findings from this series have important implications for campus practitioners who seek to support and improve students’ overall well-being on campus. Because this study covers many specific topics, the research team prepared individual briefs for each topic for both the undergraduate and graduate/professional populations. In this executive summary, overall notable findings among the comparisons of different groups will be discussed. The individual reports listed at the end of this brief provide more in-depth findings for each topic and student population.

What did we find?

Analysis revealed the following key findings:

Overall Health
  • Overall, less than half of undergraduate students rated their physical health, mental health and diet as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent.’
  • Graduate and professional students were more likely to consider their overall physical health, mental health, and diet as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ compared to undergraduate students .
  • Across the broad categories of physical health, mental health, and diet, ratings of diet were the lowest.
  • In general, male students reported better mental health than their female counterparts.
  • Where there were differences, White students tended to report higher levels of overall health, while Asian/Asian American and URM students rated themselves lower in those areas.
  • Top rated methods students reported using to improve health were: “incorporate more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into my meals,” “increase in physical engagement,” and “engage in more social activities.”
  • Physical Activity
  • Overall, only about one third of students meet the American Heart Association (AHA)’s weekly recommendations for moderate, vigorous and strengthening exercise.
  • White students were more likely to meet the AHA recommendations for moderate and vigorous exercises.
  • Among exercisers, White students were more likely to use UCLA facilities for vigorous exercise and strengthening muscles compared to other racial/ethnic groups.
  • International students were the least likely meet AHA recommendations for exercise in general. I nternational graduate students reported significantly higher rates of using UCLA facilities for exercise.
  • Meal Skipping
  • Almost half of the respondents indicated they skipped 1-3 meals during the week and about one quarter skipped over 4 meals per week.
  • Undergraduate students reported skipping meals more often than graduate students. Among undergraduate students, URM students reported a higher frequency of meal skipping.
  • The top four reasons for skipping meals were: (1) constraints on the students’ schedule; (2) students’ do not have time to prepare food to bring from home; (3) the cost of food on campus; and (4) the overall cost of food.
  • Stress and Mental Health
  • Close to half of all respondents rated their stress levels at “very high or high.” (48%)
  • On average, respondents reported rates that fell between ‘sometimes’ and ‘most of the time’ for measures of positive mental wellness.
  • Female students reported higher levels of anxiety, psychological distress and depression.
  • Where differences were found, Asian students generally showed more negative reports of mental health and higher reported levels of stress.
  • International students also reported more negative mental health and higher levels of stress.
  • Sleep
  • Only 62% of graduate students and 56% of undergraduate students reported ‘almost always’ or ‘often’ getting enough sleep to feel rested. The m ajority of respondents also reported ‘almost always’ or ‘often’ having difficulty sleeping, and feeling so tired that it affected their work.
  • Female students were more likely to report having difficulty with sleep.
  • Undergraduate students reported having more sleep problems than graduate students.

  • How can the findings inform practice?

    Compelling and informative themes emerged from the 2014 Student Affairs Graduate and Professional Student Survey (GPSS) and the University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES). While UCLA already has numerous wellness resources in place on campus, we can draw from the student voices centered in this report in order to continue developing, expanding, and refining resources and services. Before moving into specific recommendations for programs and services, it is important to consider a larger issue that influences the ultimate adoption of other strategies. Many of the survey findings (both here and in the qualitative data ) reveal patterns of less healthy choices being connected to lack of available time, as well as a high overall level of ongoing stress among students. While it is important for UCLA to provide programs and support to individual students, truly substantive progress will only be made if we also address the cultural norms around workload and achievement pressure. Students will continue to have difficulty building in healthy practices unless faculty, staff, and other mentors provide the context in which students fell they are able, and encouraged, to take time to do so.

    Increasing Access to Healthy, Affordable Food for Students

    When it comes to dietary health, both undergraduates and graduate students reported difficulties maintaining healthy eating habits while in school. One particular concern for students was meal skipping, which often happened as a result of limited time and financial strain. At the same time, incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains was one of the most popular methods of improving overall health for student respondents. Cumulatively, these data suggest that UCLA could help improve students’ dietary health by increasing their overall access to healthy and affordable food options on campus. There are a variety of ways to address this particular issue, including considering adding additional restaurants on campus that offer low-price, nutritional options or refining existing menus and vending options to include healthier choices. If conventional dining is too pricey, alternative options such as mobile fruit stands or grab-and-go carts could be pursued. An additional option is to expand community garden programs. In addition to hosting its own community garden, UCLA could partner with other community garden organizations around Los Angeles to provide students with more diverse options. Students could volunteer to help plant and cultivate fruits and vegetables and in return, get free or reduced priced produce once it is time for the harvest. This co-op model could prove to be mutually beneficial for students and the University. The campus increases its access to locally grown food and makes progress towards its sustainability goals. At the same time, students have options to engage in community service and volunteering opportunities that build their professional resume while addressing their health concerns.


    Providing Spaces for Rest and Relaxation

    Student concerns around sleep difficulties could be addressed providing clean, safe and comfortable resting spaces on campus. A first step would be to identify existing spaces on campus that could be repurposed for resting. By engaging in this preliminary step, we could provide students with clean and comfortable rest spaces in an expedient manner. UCLA could also consider constructing additional spaces on campus whose primary purposes would be meditation, napping and/or relaxation.

    Increasing Options for Physical Activity

    Understanding student time constraints, in addition to providing traditional facilities for exercise, campus stakeholders should think creatively about ways for students to access physical activity. For example, in addition to reporting low rates of physical activity, student respondents simultaneously cited “engage in more social activities” as one means of improving overall health while in school. Keeping this in mind, strategic work with student groups and departments engaged in direct work with students to offer more social events that incorporate fun and affordable physical activities could be way to combine exercise with other activities of importance to students. Other options for engaging students “where they are” might include more campus encouragement of walking meetings, or strategies to encourage taking the stairs when walking.


    Targeted Mental Health Services for Minoritized Populations

    To address the gendered and racial disparities in mental health that arose in this report, UCLA should consider devoting additional resources to offering identity-specific mental health services to minoritized student populations. While not generally considered a minoritized population, International students should be considered in these services. They are more likely to report psychological distress and depression and lower levels of well-being. More targeted programs and outreach to address the mental wellness of international students is recommended.

    For more in-depth reports on different topics and populations, click on individual links below.

    Undergraduate Student Population

    Wellness Series: Undergraduate Overall Health

    Wellness Series: Undergraduate Physical Activity

    Wellness Series: Undergraduate Meal Skipping

    Wellness Series: Undergraduate Sleep

    Wellness Series: Undergraduate Stress

    Wellness Series: Undergraduate Overall Mental Health

    Graduate and Professional Student Population

    Wellness Series: Graduate Overall Health

    Wellness Series: Graduate Physical Activity

    Wellness Series: Graduate Meal Skipping

    Wellness Series: Graduate Sleep

    Wellness Series: Graduate Stress

    Wellness Series: Graduate Overall Mental Health


    Did you know you can request customized data used in this report?

    Use SAIRO's Data Request Form to get started on data to answer your assessment questions.