Prevention Science

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 376–386 | Cite as

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


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.


Emerging adulthood Latent class analysis Diet Physical activity 



The authors would like to thank Dr. Bethany Bray of the Pennsylvania State University for her consultation on this project, as well as Ms. Kian Farbakhsh for her assistance with statistical programming. Funding for data collection was provided by Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota ( Additional salary support for the analysis of these data was provided by the University of Minnesota Obesity Prevention Center ( and the National Cancer Institute (Award # K07CA126837). The content of this manuscript is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Nelson Laska
    • 1
    • 4
  • Keryn E. Pasch
    • 1
    • 2
  • Katherine Lust
    • 3
  • Mary Story
    • 1
  • Ed Ehlinger
    • 3
  1. 1.Division of Epidemiology and Community HealthUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Kinesiology and Health EducationUniversity of TexasAustinUSA
  3. 3.Boynton Health ServiceUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  4. 4.Division of Epidemiology & Community HealthMinneapolisUSA

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