February 11, 2004

Gannett Reacts to Survey

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Last fall, 1,127 Cornellians got a check-up. They, roughly 6 percent of the student population, joined over 100,000 other college students across the country in completing a detailed questionnaire about their health. The survey, known as the National College Health Assessment, examined sexual behavior, alcohol and drug use, mental health and a variety of other pressing issues.

The results are in. While for the most part Cornell students rank consistently with their national counterparts, some findings are startling.

“We are very pleased that a relatively high percentage of people think they are in excellent or very good health, but we’re still concerned that as many at 33 percent of students don’t rate themselves as in excellent or very good health,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services.

The most frequently reported recent health problems included allergy problems, sinus infections and depression. While only 10.9 percent of students reported being previously diagnosed with depression, more than three-quarters of all respondents felt overwhelmed by all they had to do at least three times over the last year; over half frequently felt very sad and over a third often felt things were hopeless.

Close to 50 percent of respondents reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” in the last year. Serious contemplation of suicide in the last 12 months was reported by 11 percent of students. While seemingly a high percentage, the figure is consistent with the national average of 10.4 percent.

“What we want to know is, why do Cornell students feel this way? Are there specific factors in the Cornell environment that contribute to this student experience that we can identify, understand, perhaps influence?” Dittman said.

In terms of alcohol and drug use, many students overestimated how much and how often their peers party. Over half of students surveyed estimated that the typical Cornellian has five or more drinks when socializing, but in fact closer to a third of students actually have this many drinks on a given night, according to their own responses. On average, Cornellians drink 3.6 drinks when “partying.”

Only 20 percent of Cornell students used cigarettes in the last 30 days, and even fewer reported using marijuana.

Students also tended to have misconceptions about their peers’ sexual behavior. More than 35 percent of students have never had vaginal sexual intercourse, although over 90 percent of respondents estimated that the typical student had recently engaged in sexual intercourse.

Among students who were sexually active, regular condom use was reported by 53.5 percent and was more common among undergraduates and Asian-American students. Emergency contraception was used during the past year by 14.3 percent of respondents.

Gannett also uses focus groups, satisfaction surveys and advisory boards to study critical issues relating to student health.

“[It] is another tool to help us understand the health and health risks of our students,” said Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert, executive director of Gannett on the National College Health Assessment. “By sharing the results