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Open Access Research article

Understanding young adult physical activity, alcohol and tobacco use in community colleges and 4-year post-secondary institutions: A cross-sectional analysis of epidemiological surveillance data

Nicole A VanKim1, Melissa Nelson Laska1*, Edward Ehlinger2, Katherine Lust2 and Mary Story1

  • * Corresponding author: Melissa N Laska

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

2 Boynton Health Service, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:208  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-208

Published: 26 April 2010



Young adults experience many adverse health behavior changes as they transition from adolescence into adulthood. A better understanding of the relationships between health promoting and risky health behaviors may aid in the development of health promotion interventions for various types of young adult post-secondary students. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine associations between alcohol and tobacco use and physical activity among 2-year and 4-year college students.


Cross-sectional analyses were conducted using 2007 survey data, collected as part of an on-going post-secondary health surveillance system in Minnesota. Students were randomly selected to participant from 14 Minnesota colleges and universities (six 2-year community and/or technical colleges, eight 4-year post-secondary institutions). The 2007 surveillance data included 9,931 respondents.


The prevalence of demographic characteristics and health behaviors (e.g., physical activity, tobacco use) differed between young adults attending 2-year and 4-year post-secondary institutions; in general, those attending 2-year institutions are representative of more at-risk populations. Overall, higher levels of moderate, vigorous and strengthening physical activity were associated with higher levels of alcohol consumption and lower levels of smoking. In general, despite the disparities in the prevalence of these risk behaviors, the associations between the behaviors did not differ substantially between 2-year and 4-year post-secondary populations.


These findings illustrate links between leading risk behaviors. Interventions targeting multiple risk behaviors among young adults may warrant further consideration. Overall, future research is needed to support and inform young adult health promotion efforts that may be implemented in a wide array of post-secondary institutions.