6 back-to-college health tips

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Published August 16, 2013

| Consumer Reports

Staying healthy at college is no easy task between busy schedules, limited budgets, and lots of germs. Here are six ways to maintain your well-being when you head back to college:

1. Get vaccinated. The Tdap vaccine (which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), HPV vaccine, meningitis vaccine, and seasonal flu vaccine are among those vaccinations we recommend to adults, which includes college students who are 18 years of age or older. Some states require additional vaccinations. Use the state requirement search from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make sure you’ve gotten all the vaccinations that your school’s state requires before heading off this fall.

2. Stay clean. Dorms, cafeterias, and academic buildings can carry lots of germs. To give yourself a fighting chance at avoiding infections, keep your things clean, as well as surfaces including door handles and light switches. Avoid wasting money and precious storage space on tons of products and instead stock your dorm room with some simple cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes or paper towel and some all-purpose cleaner. Bounty and Pine-Sol Original were both top performers in our paper towel and all-purpose cleaner tests, respectively.

Check out our ratings for microwaves and toasters, which can be serious time-savers when it comes to preparing meals for college students. 

3. Eat healthy for less. Underclassman heading back to dorm rooms will most likely have a meal plan. Prevent college weight gain by refraining from overeating at the all-you-can-eat facilities and by keeping only healthy snacks in your dorm room. For upperclassmen moving off campus, buying and cooking groceries will probably become a new responsibility. On the bright side, making healthy choices will be easier without all the greasy foods from the cafeteria tempting you. And you don’t have to spend a lot to eat healthy. Look for cheap proteins, such as beans and eggs, which cost less per serving than pasta. If you have space in your freezer, buy meats in bulk on sale and freeze them for later use. Frozen vegetables are another good product to buy in large amounts. For quick frozen meals, our testers recommend Birds Eye Voila Chicken Florentine, which was the best value and was rated very good for nutrition. Frozen waffles, like our top rated Trader Joe’s Multigrain, are another quick fix that can make a healthy breakfast option.

4. Drink to good health. Some schools have banned sales of bottled water on campus and have instead installed water bottle filling stations. If your school hasn't done so yet, consider investing in your own water filter and refillable water bottle. By cutting out all those bottled water purchases, you'll be saving money and the environment. You can easily fill up the water filter and keep it in the fridge in your dorm room or off-campus apartment. The Clear2O CWS100A, $23, was a Best Buy in our water filter tests. You can spend all the money you’re saving from your water filter on some much-needed coffee to get you through the semester! 

Visit our diet and nutrition page for more healthy and budget friendly tips.

5. Keep essential medications and supplies on hand. Before heading back to school, prepare a little first aid kit with the basic stuff that you might need during the semester, including pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic), ibuprofen (Advil and generic), or naproxen (Aleve and generic), skin cleansers and ointments, bandages, allergy medicines, heartburn drugs, antidiarrheal tablets, and cough lozenges. Take a look at our OTC medication guide to take the guesswork out of what to pick when you’re sniffling, coughing, fighting pain, or suffering from heartburn.

6. Protect yourself. Prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) by being prepared with condoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 20 million new sexually transmitted infections each year in the United States alone and that worldwide, in 2008, there was a total of 110 million new and existing infections. While four of the infections analyzed can be easily treated and cured when caught early (Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, trichomoniasis) they often show no symptoms. Untreated STIs can cause further health issues, such as an increased chance of infertility in women. And remember, there are STIs that cannot be cured. For more information on different STIs and how to prevent and treat them, visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s STI page.

—Ciara Rafferty

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