Health risk behaviors of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans attending college

Rachel Widome, Melissa Nelson Laska, Ashley Gulden, Steven S. Fu, Katherine Lust

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Purpose. The population of military veterans attending college is rapidly growing as veterans return from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF). We sought to describe patterns of student veterans' health-related behaviors and how they might differ from their nonveteran peers. Design. We analyzed data from the 2008 Boynton College Student Health Survey (CSHS). Setting. CSHS participants completed an anonymous online survey. Subjects. The CSHS sampled students (n = 8651) attending public, private, 2-year, and 4-year postsecondary educational institutions in Minnesota. Measures. The CSHS included items on substance use (including alcohol and tobacco), safety, nutrition, and physical activity. Analysis. We described demographics of OEF/OIF veteran, non-OEF/OIF veteran, and nonveteran students and used Poisson regression to compute adjusted relative risks (ARRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) to characterize associations between veteran status and health behaviors. Results. After controlling for demographics, veteran students reported more safety-, tobacco-, and alcohol-related risk behaviors compared to nonveteran students. For instance, compared to the nonveteran reference group, the ARR for past year smokeless tobacco use and physical fighting among for OEF/OIF veterans was 1.76 (95% CI = 1.31-2.35) and 1.48 (95% CI = 1.22-1.79) respectively. Veteran and nonveteran students display similar weight-related behaviors, though OEF/ OIF veteran students were more likely to engage in strengthening exercises. Conclusions. There are specific health risk behaviors that are particularly relevant for veterans attending postsecondary institutions. As veterans enroll in postsecondary education, there is a unique window of opportunity for health promotion in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-108
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Promotion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Health focus: Fitness/physical activity
  • Nutrition
  • Obesity
  • Outcome measure: Behavioral
  • Prevention research. Manuscript format: Research
  • Qualitative
  • Research purpose: Modeling/relationship testing and descriptive
  • Safety
  • Setting: School
  • Smoking control
  • Strategy: Behavior change
  • Study design: Nonexperimental
  • Substance abuse
  • Target population age: Adults
  • Target population circumstances: Education/income level
  • Tobacco
  • Veterans
  • Weight control
  • Young adult

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