Fear of COVID-19 Effects on University Student’s Health Behaviours: The FRESH Study

Madison Grande, Patricia Doyle-Baker


Background: The imposed stay-at-home restrictions with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted daily routines and impacted some population groups more than others. One such group included university students who were forced to adapt to online classes reducing face to face interactions. The uncertainty associated with this change may have created a sense of anxiety and fear towards the virus. Objective: The objective of this study was to measure the level of fear associated with COVID-19 in Canadian undergrad university students and the influence fear may have on their health-related behaviours during an ongoing pandemic. Methods: Students enrolled in four large universities in the province of Alberta were invited to complete an online Fear of COVID-19 Scale (FCV-19S) from January 4th to February 15th, 2021. Results: Undergraduate students (n=680; 73.4% female) with a mean age of 23 (SD 5) years had an average FCV-19 score of 17.1 (SD 6.1) out of 35. Many students (60%) categorized their fear in the moderate range and females were more likely to have a higher FCV-19 score (p<.05) than males. Increases in alcohol and substance use, sleeping and eating behaviours were significantly associated (p<.05) with higher FCV-19 scores (p=.047; p=.000; p=.000). Most student’s smoking behaviour (80.5%) remained the same, however physical activity decreased. Conclusion: In summary, students showed a moderate level of fear associated with COVID-19 during the pandemic, and those with greater levels of fear reported more negative heath behaviour choices. These results highlight that continued restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic continue to negatively impact student’s health behaviours.


Pandemics, Fear, COVID-19, Health Behaviour, Students, Universities

Full Text:



Active Minds. (2020). Retrieved on Nov. 14, 2020. Available at: https://www.activeminds.org

Ahorsu, D.K., Lin, C.Y., Imani, V., Saffari, M., Griffiths, M.D., & Pakpour, A.H. (2020). The Fear of COVID-19 Scale: Development and Initial Validation. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-020-00270-8

Alberta. (2021a). Stronger public health measures. Available at: https://www.alberta.ca/enhanced-public-health-measures.aspx (Accessed: 27th March 2021).

Alberta. (2021b). COVID-19 orders and legislation. Available at: https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-orders-and-legislation.aspx (Accessed: 28th March 2021).

Althubaiti, A. (2016). ‘Information bias in health research: Definition, pitfalls, and adjustment methods. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 9, 211–217. https://doi:10.2147/JMDH.S104807

Australian Psychological Society. (2020). Managing lockdown fatigue. The Australian Psychological Society Limited. https://www.psychology.org.au/getmedia/74e7a437-997c-4eea-a49c-30726ce94cf0/20APS-IS-COVID-19-Public-Lockdown-fatigue.pdf (Accessed: 29th May 2021).

Bertrand, L., Shaw, K., Ko, J., Deprez, D., Chilibeck, P.D., & Zello, G.A. (2021). The impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on university students’ dietary intake, physical activity, and sedentary behaviour. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 46(3), 265–272. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2020-0990

Bethlehem, J. (2010). Selection Bias in Web Surveys. International Statistical Review / Revue Internationale De Statistique, 78(2), 161-188. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-5823.2010.00112.x

Bhandari, A., & Wagner, T. (2006). Self-reported utilization of health care services: Improving measurement and accuracy. Medical Care Research and Review, 63(2), pp. 217–235. https://doi:10.1177/1077558705285298

Chen, X., Sin, S.C., Theng, Y. L., & Lee, C. (2015). Why Students Share Misinformation on Social Media: Motivation, Gender, and Study-level Differences. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41 (5), 583-592. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2015.07.003.

Copeland, W.E., McGinnis, E., Bai, Y., Adams, Z., Nardone, H., Devadanam, V., Rettew, J., & Hudziak, J.J. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on College Student Mental Health and Wellness. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 60(1), 134–141.e2. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2020.08.466

Dinis, J., and Bragança, M. (2018). Quality of Sleep and Depression in College Students: A Systematic Review. Sleep science (Sao Paulo, Brazil) 11(4), 290–301. https://doi.org/10.5935/1984-0063.20180045

Doyle-Baker, P.K., & Wray, H.E. (2019). Exploring the occupational physical activity levels in young adult restaurant servers. International Journal of Nutrition, 4(3): 20-28. https://doi:10.14302/issn.2379-7835.ijn-19-2968

Fox, K.R. (1999). The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutrition, 2(3 A), 411–418. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980099000567

Giordani, R.C.F., Zanoni da Silva, M., Muhl, C., & Giolo, S.R. (2020). Fear of COVID-19 scale: Assessing fear of the coronavirus pandemic in Brazil. Journal of Health Psychology, doi:10.1177/1359105320982035

Government of Canada. (2020). Physical distancing: How to slow the spread of COVID-19. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/social-distancing.html (Accessed: 14 January 2021).

Gruzd, A. and Mai, P. (2020). The State of Social Media in Canada (2020). Available at SSRN 3651206.

Harper, C.A., Satchell, L.P., Fido, D. et al. (2020). Functional Fear Predicts Public Health Compliance in the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Mental Health Addiction. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-020-00281-5

Jae Jeong, H. (2016). The level of collapse we are allowed: Comparison of different response scales in Safety Attitudes Questionnaire. Biometrics & Biostatistics International Journal, 4(4), pp. 128–134. https://doi.org/10.15406/bbij.2016.04.00100

Levin, K.A. (2006). Study design III: Cross-sectional studies. Evidence-Based Dentistry, 7(1), pp. 24–25. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ebd.6400375

Majumdar, P., Biswas, A., & Sahu, S. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown: cause of sleep disruption, depression, somatic pain, and increased screen exposure of office workers and students of India. Chronobiology International, 37(8), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1080/07420528.2020.1786107

Marelli, S., Castelnuovo, A., Somma, A., Castronovo, V., Mombelli, S., Bottoni, D., Leitner, C., Fossati, A., and Ferini-Strambi, L. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 lockdown on sleep quality in university students and administration staff. Journal of Neurology, 268(1), pp. 8–15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00415-020-10056-6

Martínez-Lorca, M., Martínez-Lorca, A., Criado-Álvarez, J.J., Armesilla, M.D.C., & Latorre, J.M. (2020). The fear of COVID-19 scale: Validation in Spanish university students. Psychiatry Research, 293(August), pp. 113350. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113350

McCoach, D.B., Gable, R.K., & Madura, J.P. (2013). Review of the steps for designing an instrument. In Instrument development in the affective domain (pp. 277–284). New York: Springer.

Mertens, G., Gerritsen, L., Duijndam, S., Salemink, E., & Engelhard I.M. (2020). Fear of the coronavirus (COVID-19): Predictors in an online study conducted in March 2020. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 74, 102258, 10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102258

Mindell, J.S., Giampaoli, S., Goesswald, A., Kamtsiuris, P., Mann, C., Männistö, S., Morgan, K., Shelton, N. J., Verschuren, W. M., & Tolonen, H. (2015). Sample selection, recruitment, and participation rates in health examination surveys in Europe - experience from seven national surveys. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 15(1), 78. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-015-0072-4

Nguyen, H.T. Do, B.N. Pham, K.M. Kim, G.B. Dam, H.T. Nguyen, T.T. Nguyen, T.T. Nguyen, Y.H. Sørensen, K. Pleasant, A., & Duong, T.V. (2020). Fear of COVID-19 Scale—Associations of Its Scores with Health Literacy and Health-Related Behaviors among Medical Students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17 (11), 1-14. https://doi:10.3390/ijerph17114164

Pakpour, A.H., Griffiths, M.D., Chang, K.C., Chen, Y.P., Kuo, Y.J., & Lin, C.Y. (2020). Assessing the fear of COVID-19 among different populations: A response to Ransing et al. 2020. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 89, 524–525. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2020.06.006

Perz, C.A., Lang, B.A., & Harrington, R. (2020). Validation of the Fear of COVID-19 Scale in a US College Sample. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, pp. 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-020-00356-3

Radwan, E., & Radwan, A. (2020). The Spread of the Pandemic of Social Media Panic during the COVID-19 Outbreak. European Journal of Environment and Public Health, 4(2), p. em0044. https://doi.org/10.29333/ejeph/8277

Schulenberg, J., & Maggs, J. (2002). A developmental perspective on alcohol use and heavy drinking during adolescence and the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol/ Supplement, (14), 54-70. https://doi.org/10.15288/jsas.2002.s14.54

Schultchen, D., Reichenberger, J., Mittl, T., Weh, T.R.M., Smyth, J.M., Blechert, J., & Pollatos, O. (2019). Bidirectional relationship of stress and affect with physical activity and healthy eating. British Journal of Health Psychology, 24(2), 315–333. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12355

Seale, H., Mak, J.P., Razee, H., & MacIntyre, C.R. (2012). Examining the knowledge, attitudes and practices of domestic and international university students towards seasonal and pandemic influenza. BMC Public Health, 12(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-12-307.

Sisson, S.B., McClain, J.J., & Tudor-Locke, C. (2008). Campus walkability, pedometer-determined steps, and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity: a comparison of 2 university campuses. Journal of American College Health, 56(5), 585–592. https://doi.org/10.3200/JACH.56.5.585-592

Tucker, P., & Gilliland, J. (2007). The effect of season and weather on physical activity: A systematic review. Public Health, 121(12), 909–922. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.puhe.2007.04.009

Van, D., McLaws, M.L., Crimmins, J., MacIntyre, C.R., & Seale, H. (2010). University life and pandemic influenza: Attitudes and intended behaviour of staff and students towards pandemic (H1N1) 2009. BMC Public Health, 10. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-10-130

Vollrath, M. (1998). Smoking, coping and health behavior among university students. Psychology and Health, 13(3), pp. 431–441. https://doi.org/10.1080/08870449808407301

Winter, T., Riordan, B.C., Pakpour, A.H., Griffiths, M.D., Mason, A., Poulgrain, J.W., & Scarf, D. (2020). Evaluation of the English Version of the Fear of COVID-19 Scale and Its Relationship with Behavior Change and Political Beliefs. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-020-00342-9

World Health Organization. (WHO). 2020. Coronavirus disease 2019 Situation Report – 52 12 March 2020. World Health Organization (WHO), 2019.(March), 2633. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Zimmermann, M., Bledsoe, C., Papa, A. (2020). The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on College Student Mental Health: A Longitudinal Examination of Risk and Protective Factors [Internet]. PsyArXiv preprint. Available from: https://psyarxiv.com/2y7hu/

DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijkss.v.9n.3p52


  • There are currently no refbacks.

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

2013-2022 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD.

International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science

You may require to add the 'aiac.org.au' domain to your e-mail 'safe list’ If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox'. Otherwise, you may check your 'Spam mail' or 'junk mail' folders.