A healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition and physical activity have been found to be protective factors against many diseases, including cardiometabolic diseases, hypertension, various cancers, obesity and related diseases 
. A healthy lifestyle among adolescents and young adults leads to several psychosocial and behavioral protective factors as well as risk factors 
. While risk factors raise the probability of involvement in risk behaviors, protective factors reduce the probability of involvement in risk behaviors by providing a model of positive social behaviors, by means of social and personal supervision and control, as well as a supportive social environment. Both risk and protective factors are present in all of our social and personal systems 
. Obtaining knowledge on how and why to employ a healthy lifestyle is a basic developmental need and an important tool for managing challenges arising from the current “obesity epidemic” 
. It is important to note that health behaviors are formulated throughout life with great emphasis on the earlier stages of life 
Individuals who wish to pursue higher education tend to do so during their late adolescents and young adulthood years. Variables innate in the college experience make this environment a potentially significant risk factor for the instigation of disordered eating 
. Physiological and psychological factors in the college environment, which may cause the onset of disordered eating include: identity and role changes, insufficient exercise, cafeteria food, and the availability and the ease of snacking on junk food 
. Thus, as health behaviors continue to form during the crucial years spent in pursuing higher education, interventions at this stage may have a lasting impact on health promotion and disease prevention 
In their qualitative study, based on eight university focus groups, Greaney et al., 
found that college students identified temptations, lack of self discipline, and social and environmental issues such as time constraints and willingness to eat unhealthy food as obstacles to keeping a healthy lifestyle or maintaining their weight. Furthermore, Maglione & Hayman 
reported a positive correlation between social support, self-efficiency and a commitment to engage in physical activity among under-privileged college students, as they demonstrated that those with high levels of social support, self efficiency and a commitment to plan for physical activity reported higher physical activity performance.
In their examination of knowledge, beliefs and attitudes about weight control and eating disorders among trainee home economics and physical education teachers, O'Dea & Abraham 
found that 20% of females and 13% of males regularly skipped breakfast. Furthermore, participants were found to lack knowledge about weight control, adolescent nutritional needs and fad diets, and held misconceptions about eating disorders, with 14–72% answering questions on the subject incorrectly. The authors concluded that trainee home economics and physical education teachers require more specific training about nutrition, eating disorders, weight control, and suitable tools to better advise overweight students.
In addition, psychological and physical factors, such as negative emotions and body dissatisfaction, are predictive risk factors for disordered eating in adolescent girls, and environmental stimuli may heighten susceptibility towards eating disorders in girls with these characteristics 
. As disordered eating behaviors and negative views of weight have been shown to be established prior to the commencement of college 
, the stressful college setting may inflate pre-existing unhealthy eating habits.
Later in life, negative self image is more common among young females than males 
and women typically report higher situational body dissatisfaction and exercising for appearance-related reasons compared to men 
. Moreover, weight has been found to be a much greater issue for women 
, who felt more overweight, dieted more, expressed more body consciousness, and reported that weight interfered more with social activities compared to men 
. Male students have been found to be less concerned with weight and to use fewer strategies for controlling weight compared to females 
; Furthermore, female students have been shown to have healthier habits related to alcohol consumption and nutrition but experienced more stress, while males showed higher levels of overweight and obesity and less interest in nutritional advice and health enhancing activities 
Stress and depression have also been found to impact health behaviors and dietary quality 
. A study which examined medical students and students of other health disciplines found that stress manifests physically, behaviorally and emotionally due to extensive academic requirements, personality traits such as perfectionism, and additional difficulties related to student life 
. A history of weight change and weight gain has been attributed to stress and mental instability, and the inability to cope with stress and weight gain among university students and staff, have also been correlated 
Indeed, the benefits of physical activity and its positive influence on health, emotional well-being 
, and self esteem 
are well supported. Students who regularly engage in physical activity have higher self-esteem, report an improved external appearance, are less preoccupied with body measurements, receive more positive feedback from social surroundings and are significantly healthier, both physically and emotionally, than non-active students 
. Furthermore, it is well documented that body image affects self-esteem 
since a person’s weight is highly visible and affects initial impressions on others 
. One study, which examined 1,217 college students, found that stockier students, especially women, reported a significantly higher incidence of negative self-image 
, and a related study found that the most significant factors for predicting manifestation of eating disorder symptoms are low self appraisal and dissatisfaction regarding body image 
One way to encourage positive health practices is through community settings. A study conducted in three American universities concluded that the physical education departments in higher education facilities should model healthy lifestyles through community activities, both in schools and in other facilities, in order to promote overall wellness including regular physical activity, good nutrition and positive health practices 
. Kicklighter et al 
found that students reported increased knowledge of food portions, eating a healthier breakfast and making better snacking choices, as well as exhibiting a desire for information to integrate into a healthier lifestyle, in response to community nutrition modules.
The aim of this study is to examine the effect of different variables on undergraduate students, and through this to propose appropriate interventions for improving positive health behaviors and reducing risk behaviors among this population.
Our study goals are to evaluate health perceptions, self and body image, and physical activity and nutritional habits among undergraduate students, as well as to explore the impact of gender on these variables and to study the associations between them among various academic disciplines. We hypothesize that:
- Female students demonstrate a lower self and body image than males and engage in less physical exercise, yet keep a sensitive diet in higher frequency than male students.
- Positive relationships will be observed between engaging in physical exercise, healthy nutrition a positive self image and health perceptions.
- Nutrition and physiotherapy students will report healthier nutritional habits and more physical exercise compared with students from other disciplines.