Latent class analysis of lifestyle characteristics and health risk behaviors among college youth

Melissa Nelson Laska, Keryn E. Pasch, Katherine Lust, Mary Story, Ed Ehlinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


Few studies have examined the context of a wide range of risk behaviors among emerging adults (ages 18-25 years), approximately half of whom in the USA enroll in post-secondary educational institutions. The objective of this research was to examine behavioral patterning in weight behaviors (diet and physical activity), substance use, sexual behavior, stress, and sleep among undergraduate students. Health survey data were collected among undergraduates attending a large, public US university (n = 2,026). Latent class analysis was used to identify homogeneous, mutually exclusive "classes" (patterns) of ten leading risk behaviors. Resulting classes differed for males and females. Female classes were defined as: (1) poor lifestyle (diet, physical activity, sleep), yet low-risk behaviors (e. g., smoking, binge drinking, sexual risk, drunk driving; 40. 0% of females), (2) high risk (high substance use, intoxicated sex, drunk driving, poor diet, inadequate sleep) (24. 3%), (3) moderate lifestyle, few risk behaviors (20. 4%), (4) "health conscious" (favorable diet/physical activity with some unhealthy weight control; 15. 4%). Male classes were: (1) poor lifestyle, low risk (with notably high stress, insufficient sleep, 9. 2% of males), (2) high risk (33. 6% of males, similar to class 2 in females), (3) moderate lifestyle, low risk (51. 0%), and (4) "classic jocks" (high physical activity, binge drinking, 6. 2%). To our knowledge, this is among the first research to examine complex lifestyle patterning among college youth, particularly with emphasis on the role of weight-related behaviors. These findings have important implications for targeting much needed health promotion strategies among emerging adults and college youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)376-386
Number of pages11
JournalPrevention Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 8 2009


  • Diet
  • Emerging adulthood
  • Latent class analysis
  • Physical activity

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