Integrative professional development encompasses ethical, affective, humanistic, esthetic, sociopolitical, and health-care dimensions in addition to theoretical, disciplinary knowledge and obtaining technical competencies [1–3]. In this regard, it has been demonstrated that there is a relationship between university students’ health status and academic performance—hence; implementing health-promotion programs during their academic development is important . However, it has been observed that many university students do not attach importance to their health care and even report their health status as being good or very good despite their lifestyles being unhealthy .
Self-care is understood as an individual’s reasoned behavior; it has a theoretical basis that allows the individual to act and decide on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease as well as maintaining their health and enjoying maximal quality of life (QOL) according to their sociocultural context. It constitutes an operative strategy of empowerment for maintaining health that is fundamental to developing all dimensions of a future professional’s integrative development [6, 7].
QOL and health status differ even among countries in the same region, as has been demonstrated in European university students. In this respect, among British university students, it was observed that 70% of them did not comply with recommended physical activity, 66% consumed less than the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, and 56% consumed alcohol at least once a week . Likewise, there are great gender differences: women report less smoking, lower alcohol intake, and lower use of illegal substances, although they consume more fruits and vegetables. Males have a higher level of physical activity, consume fewer sweets, and have more restorative sleep . It has also been reported that females have a lower frequency of psychological problems . On the other hand, in a study carried out on Spanish students, it was found that 68.4% of males and 48.4% of females engaged in physical activity according to recommended levels. Similarly, students who undertook physical activity consumed more fruits and vegetables and smoked less than those who did not do any physical activity. In the same study, it was found that sedentary males devoted more time to using a computer, and sedentary females devoted more time to watching television . The academic antecedents and lifestyles of the students’ parents were determining factors in physical exercise among the young people. The results of that studies suggest that healthy lifestyles are linked to behavior of social nets conformed, which supports the notion that health is transmittable.
Among Greek university students, it was observed that although females reported less physical exercise than males, their nutrition was better and their rates of overweight and obesity were lower than those of males. Likewise, medical students reported a lower frequency of alcohol consumption, although there were no differences with respect to eating habits compared with other university majors .
With respect to alcohol consumption, better habits have been observed in female Swedish university students than in males; however, females reported greater psychological stress, and males showed a higher percentage of overweight and obesity linked to refuse of advice on nutrition and worse healthy lifestyles . On the other hand, Bulgarian students reported consuming sweets, cakes, and snacks more frequently, whereas Polish students consumed fewer fruits and vegetables. In general, males consumed more snacks than females (except in Bulgaria), and students who lived in home with their parents consumed more fruits and vegetables than those who lived alone or with friends .
On the other hand, in a study carried out among Lebanese university students, 37% overweight and 12.5% obesity was observed in males; 13.6% overweight and 3.2% obesity was recorded in females. In contrast, 6.4% of females and 1% of males were underweight . Likewise, 22.9% overweight or obesity was recorded among Canadian university students; females were more concerned about their body weight than males, although their lifestyles and health status did not show significant differences .
In general, it has been demonstrated that women are more concerned about their body weight than men. Women exhibit better health habits, although they report more psychological problems [12–17].
One relevant aspect to student lifestyles is the changes observed with time at university, particularly if the students’ studies involve health, as in the case of medical students. In this respect, the 15% of the London students were non-drinkers, among those who drank, 48% of the men and 38% of the women exceeded sensible weekly limits of alcohol consumption . Also it has been observed that the consumption of alcohol diminished with their time at university . This supports the proposal of implementing a university health-promotion program so that all students—irrespective of their majors—possess adequate knowledge about adopting healthy lifestyles.
The present study will be carried out at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Faculty of Higher Studies-Zaragoza (FES-Zaragoza, UNAM). This university campus is a UNAM multidisciplinary faculty and was founded in 1976; currently, it offers undergraduate studies in the following seven academic majors: (i) medical surgery (n = 1,434); (ii) dental surgery (n = 1,672); (iii) nursing (n = 1,357); (iv) psychology (n = 2605); (v) biology (n = 1398); (vi) biological/pharmacological chemistry (n = 1,652); and (vii) chemical engineering (n = 1039). There are in addition some postgraduate courses.
In some unpublished studies conducted on students at FES- Zaragoza, UNAM, it was found that 40% of students were either overweight or obese as a consequence of unhealthy lifestyles. Surprisingly, students undertaking careers in the health sciences (medicine, nursing, odontology, and psychology) had a higher percentage of overweight and obesity than those in biological and chemical sciences (biology, chemical engineering, pharmaceutical chemistry, and biochemistry). This suggests that though their academic education is linked with health promotion, it is insufficient to change their lifestyles. It underlines the importance of complementary actions to promote the integrative development of health self-care regardless of the students’ academic discipline. Therefore, FES-Zaragoza, UNAM has implemented the University Health Promoter (UHP) model as a policy for integrative professional formation. This constitutes a fundamental strategy for training students in the adoption of healthy lifestyles during their academic development.
The UHP model incorporates health promotion as an educative work project. It has the purpose of promoting human development and improving the QOL of those who study or work. At the same time, it encourages healthy behavior in families, future work environments, and in society in general [20–23].
Among the determining factors for adopting healthy lifestyles, it is necessary to examine gender, socioeconomic level, prior lifestyles, health status, the environment, parental lifestyles and health status, career choice, healthy support networks , and overall students’ knowledge about strategies to adopt healthy lifestyles during their time at university. Within this framework, the aim of the present study is to assess the impact of a training program to promote health among university students. Consequently, the trained university students will help create a safe, healthy learning environment at FES-Zaragoza, UNAM, which will in turn promote the development of an integrative health culture. At the same time, healthy lifestyles in terms of self-care will be promoted in the student community.