Identification of health-related behavioural clusters and their association with demographic characteristics in Irish university students

Joseph Murphy, Ciaran MacDonncha, Marie H Murphy, Niamh Murphy, Anna Timperio, Rebecca Leech, Catherine Woods

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Students engage in risky health-related behaviours that influence their current and future health status. Health-related behaviours cluster among adults and differently based on sub-populations characteristics but research is lacking for university populations. Examining the clustering of health- related behaviours can inform our initiatives and strategies, while examining cluster members’ characteristics can help target those who can prosper most from health promotion efforts. This study examines the clustering of health-related behaviours in Irish university students, and investigates the relationship with students’ sex, age, field of study and accommodation type.
Methods: An online survey was completed by 5672 Irish university students (51.3% male; 21.60 ± 5.65 years) during 2014. Two-step cluster analysis was used to understand how health-related behaviours (physical activity, smoking, alcohol intake, drug use and dietary habits) cluster among male and female students. Binary logistic regressions were conducted to examine the likelihood of students falling into certain clusters based on their characteristics.
Results: Five cluster groups were identified in males and four in females. A quarter of males were categorised as ideal healthy with older students and those from certain fields of study having a higher likelihood of being classified in a low physical activity and poor diet (OR = 1.06–2.89), alcohol consumption (OR = 1.03–3.04), or smoking and drug use (OR = 1.06–2.73) cluster. Forty-five percent of females were categorised as ideal healthy with older females more likely to be in a low active and smoking cluster (OR = 1.03), and less likely to be in a convenience food cluster (OR = 0.96). Females from certain fields of study were also more likely to be classified in these clusters (OR = 1.59–1.76). Students living away from their family home had in increased likelihood of being in a cluster related to a higher frequency of alcohol consumption (OR = 1.72–3.05).
Conclusion: Health-related behaviours cluster among this population and need to be taken into account when designing multi-health interventions and policies. These findings can be used to target student groups at risk, leading to more efficient and successful health promotion efforts. The addition of modules providing information regarding health-related behaviours are advised in all fields of study.
Original languageEnglish
Article number121
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 28 Jan 2019


  • University students, Health-related behaviours, Clustering
  • University students
  • Health-related behaviours
  • Clustering


Dive into the research topics of 'Identification of health-related behavioural clusters and their association with demographic characteristics in Irish university students'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this