Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Sport, Leisure & Childhood Studies

First Advisor

Dr Cian O'Neill

Second Advisor

Ms Joan Dineen


Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have been called to lead global health promotion actions, yet there remains a dearth of empirically informed ‘Healthy University’ (HU) initiatives. This thesis constituted a baseline mixed methods needs assessment to inform a settings-based health promotion (HP) initiative (‘A Healthy MTU’) within a multi-campus ‘case’ HEI in Ireland (Cork campuses of MTU, formerly CIT). Specific aims were to (i) investigate student and staff health metrics, and (ii) identify the cultural and environmental determinants of health and wellbeing within the case HEI setting. Using a phased, mixed methodology (QUAN-QUAL), five sequential empirical studies were undertaken. Quantitative data were gathered using two web-based health and wellbeing questionnaire instruments, tailored and disseminated to each respective cohort (N=11,261 students, N=1,705 staff). Qualitative analyses encompassed a novel comparative discussion of student and staff health challenges, in addition to thematic analysis of data gathered from a purposive sample of cross-HEI stakeholders (n=16 semi-structured interviews, n=6 focus groups). In total, 2,267 (20.1% response rate) and 279 (16.4% response rate) responses were received to the student and staff questionnaire instruments, respectively. Concerning quantitative metrics were reported by both cohorts, including low energy/vitality (83.7% of students and 83.0% of staff), insufficient sleep (79.3% students, 82.2% staff), indicators of sub-optimal nutrition (74.9% students, 62.1% staff <5 daily servings of fruit and vegetables), and excessive sitting time (65.7% of students, 60.8% of staff). Moreover, health and lifestyle metrics appeared associated with explicit organisational priorities, such as students’ mental health (8 variables predicted 37% of the variance in positive mental health scores), and staff absenteeism (significantly greater stress and absenteeism amongst the least healthy clustered group of staff versus a ‘healthy iv lifestyle’ cluster). Thematic analyses revealed a multitude of ecological barriers to health within an increasingly pressurised higher education environment. Triangulation of participants’ phenomenological experiences with quantitative data enabled the empirical derivation of two practitioner-focussed models that will serve to inform (i) the ecological evaluation of HP interventions and activities within HEI settings, and (ii) the operational delivery of a settings-based campus HP initiative within the complex ecosystem of the case HEI. This research will be of interest to stakeholders within HEIs and large organisational settings, whilst concurrently serving to underpin the design and evaluation of multi-component (individual and environmental) strategies to maximise and measure the impact of ‘A Heathy MTU’.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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