With the price of higher education ever increasing, Mark Doran asks what hidden cost it has on the health of students.


It’s not controversial to say that education is a boon to society. We dedicate years of our life to learning valuable skills which we then in turn use to benefit ourselves and those around us. But more and more we are seeing how the stress and immense pressure created by education, especially higher education, is having a severely detrimental effect on students. Whether it be through lack of sleep, developing unhealthy habits to deal with stress, or disastrous effects on the mental health of some students, there is a multitude of links between health and education that are far from favourable.

This is not to say that the link between education and health is a solely negative one. There are several obvious positive links; those with better education are more likely to eat healthily, practise safe sex, and are less likely to smoke. Along with this, a study across 22 European countries found that people with less formal education (defined as lower secondary education or below) are more likely to have poor self-rated help and functional limitations. There is a slew of studies and information available online espousing the virtues of education and its links to increased health, but rarely do these studies explore the effect of third level education on health, usually stopping short at secondary level education.

“Worryingly enough, approximately one in every twenty students stated that their reason for binge drinking was due to feelings of loneliness or depression.”

Everybody jokes about the infamous ‘Freshers’ 15’ upon entering college, the notion that within their first year at college every student gains around fifteen pounds. Between the stereotypes of instant noodles for every meal and eating pre exam stress away, it’s not hard to see where this adage comes from, but does it actually hold any weight?

Despite what one may think, there is little evidence to support this claim. Most studies agree that higher levels of education are linked with positive eating habits. However, even if unhealthy eating is not of great concern, the real problem may lie in mental health and alcohol consumption.

One study examined rates of alcohol consumption among those with varying degrees of education. While young men with lower levels of education were three times more likely to drink than young men that were highly educated, the study also found that highly educated young women were actually more likely to partake in binge drinking than lesser educated young women.

In the academic year of 2002/2003, a College Lifestyle and Attitudinal National Survey (CLAN) was conducted in UCC to determine the rates of alcohol and drug consumption among students. What they found was that 83.4% of students admitted to binge drinking within the past twelve months. Worryingly enough, approximately one in every twenty students stated that their reason for binge drinking was due to feelings of loneliness or depression.

“Up to 60% of college students experience a poor quality of sleep with about 7.7%   of college students reporting insomnia symptoms.”

On top of all these other issues, one of the problems most commonly faced by students is that of sleep deprivation. According to the United States National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), up to 60% of college students experience a poor quality of sleep with about 7.7% of college students reporting insomnia symptoms. These figures are disturbingly high, speaking volumes about the unseen cost of higher level education.

What can be done to remedy this situation is uncertain. Perhaps if more resources were diverted to campus counselling services or if more care was taken to inform students of the risks of reckless drinking, then a positive impact would be made upon the general student body. Until such changes occur, students around the country will have to suffer the consequences of inaction.