Health Status and Lifestyle Habits of US Medical Students: A Longitudinal Study
Background: Evidence shows that physicians and medical students who engage in healthy lifestyle habits are more likely to counsel patients about such behaviors. Yet medical school is a challenging time that may bring about undesired changes to health and lifestyle habits.
Aims: This study assessed changes in students’ health and lifestyle behaviors during medical school. Subjects and Methods: In a longitudinal study, students were assessed at both the beginning and end of medical school. Anthropometric, metabolic, and lifestyle variables were measured at a clinical research center. Data were collected from 2006 to 2011, and analyzed in 2013–2014 with SAS version 9.3. Pearson’s correlations were used to assess associations between variables and a generalized linear model was used to measure change over time.
Results: Seventy‑eight percent (97/125) of participants completed both visits. At baseline, mean anthropometric and clinical measures were at or near healthy values and did not change over time, with the exception of increased diastolic blood pressure (P = 0.01), high‑density lipoprotein‑cholesterol (P < 0.001), and insulin (P < 0.001). Self‑reported diet and physical activity habits were congruent with national goals, except for Vitamin D and sodium. Dietary intake did not change over time, with the exceptions of decreased carbohydrate (percent of total energy) (P < 0.001) and sodium (P = 0.04) and increased fat (percent of total energy) and Vitamin D (both P < 0.01). Cardiovascular fitness showed a trend toward declining, while self‑reported physical activity increased (P < 0.001). Conclusions: Students’ clinical measures and lifestyle behaviors remain generally healthy throughout medical school; yet some students exhibit cardiometabolic risk and diet and activity habits not aligned with national recommendations. Curricula that include personal health and lifestyle assessment may motivate students to adopt healthier practices and serve as role models for patients.
Keywords: Lifestyle, Medical school, Medical students, Nutrition, Prevention