Modifiable Health-Risk Behaviours and Mental Health Indicators in University Students in Croatia

Jelena Kovačević, Vera Musil, Vesna Bilić-Kirin, Valerija Miličić


Objective – The aim of this study was to investigate the connection between mental health indicators and nutritional status, physical activity and eating habits in first-year university students in Croatia.

Materials and Methods – The data about body weight, body height, eating habits, psychical activity and mental health indicators were obtained retrospectively from preventative care medical records of first-year university students (N=1035). The statistical analysis was performed using the R statistical software. Statistical significance was considered as P<0.05.

Results – Out of 1035 participants (68% female), significantly more female, compared to male students, reported depressive mood (7.9% vs. 4.3%, P=0.03), low self-esteem (4.1% vs. 2.4%, P<0.01) and were underweight (12.6% vs 4.6%, P<0.01). Significantly more male students reported regular eating of a cooked meal (94.2% vs. 90.5%, P=0.04), engaging in physical activities in general (99.4% vs. 92.9%, P<0.01), active sport (51.1% vs. 30.2%, P<0.01), recreational sport (89.1% vs. 71.2%, P<0.01) and walking (90.9% vs. 80.7%, P<0.01). Significantly more physically active participants and those who practiced active sport, recreational sport and walking had high self-esteem. Significantly more participants with a healthy eating pattern, regular consumption of a cooked meal and breakfast had high self-esteem and absence of depressive mood.   

Conclusion – The results of the study showed significantly better mental health indicators in students who reported regular physical activity and a healthy dietary pattern. The results implied that physical activity and a healthy diet, as modifiable health-risk behaviors, could be an important part  of public health programs for improving mental health of university students.


Self-esteem; Depressive symptom; Physical activity; Eating habits

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