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Oakland University receives funding for sleep study to combat 'freshman 15'

Researchers: Unhealthy habits in college can lead to long-term problems

ROCHESTER, Mich. – The stress of course work and how students cope while pulling all-nighters are concerning factors to researchers who see them forming habits which could create severe health issues down the road.

Dr. Andrea Kozak, a researcher in obesity, has partnered with sleep specialist Dr. Scott Pickett to help narrow in on the cause of weight gain in students. Kozak said the main concern is cardiovascular disease which has a direct link to obesity. Type ll diabetes falls in the category as well, and its prevalence among younger individuals is rising.

“We’re seeing earlier and earlier cases of type ll diabetes, we’re seeing it in children," Kozak said. "That was not happening when I was a child, for example, so things are changing.”

Though students are juggling several responsibilities, Kozak said it’s unlikely students are thinking how their current habits are affecting their long-term outcomes.

“We’re talking about something that’s going to happen possibly 30 to 40 years later and that’s the problem because students aren’t thinking about that,” Kozak said.

Future research

The “Examination of Habitual Sleep” study will follow freshmen over the course of two years, observing the students’ sleeping patterns and activity level while keeping track of their diet.  
Researchers will begin choosing applicants at random to participate next summer. Kozak said the study will hopefully catch these habits early and present a clearer case to students on how a lifestyle of poor sleep and diet can produce a greater risk of future health problems.

Kozak hopes the study will yield enough evidence to perform interventions for students to correct their lifestyles before it catches up with them in later years. She wants students to create a path for themselves to set them up for a healthy future and encourages her students to get their cholesterol and vitals under control when they’re at this age.

“The earlier you start to do things the better off you’re going to be,” she said. “We spend a lot of money in this country late in people’s lives.”

How students are coping now

Students are scrambling, no doubt. At this point their habits carry an even weight of both healthy and non-healthy. They know what is good for their bodies but sometimes fall into whatever they need to do to stay sane during the night.

A quick stroll through the Oakland University Library shows every occupied table with a cup of caffeine or a bag of snacks within arm's reach.

Erica Kloski, a third-year student, was among them. She was on her way to begin writing a speech around 11 p.m. She said she tries to be mindful of how she’s taking care of herself because she “doesn’t want to end up with a bunch of problems later.” But there are times where convenience comes before health.

“A lot of times you just don’t have enough time in the day to get everything done,” she said.

While students prioritize their studies at the expense of their health, it remains to be seen whether the efforts of Dr. Kozak and Dr. Picket will be enough for students to start putting their health first.