Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. Terry A. Lennie


The purpose of this dissertation was to examine factors associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk among emerging adults in college aged 18-25 years. CVD risks that develop during this period often persist into adulthood making it an ideal time to target CVD prevention. The specific aims of this dissertation were to 1) explore perceptions of cardiovascular risk among emerging adult men in college; 2) compare differences in unhealthy behaviors and obesity between emerging adults in college living in rural, Appalachian Kentucky and urban Fayette County, Kentucky; and 3) compare measures of general and abdominal obesity in predicting blood pressure among emerging adults in college.

Specific Aim One was addressed by a qualitative study of perceptions of cardiovascular risk in 10 emerging adult males in college. Specific Aims Two and Three were addressed by a study of emerging adult college students living in rural, Appalachian and urban Fayette County, Kentucky. We hypothesized that students in rural, Appalachian Kentucky would engage in more unhealthy behaviors and be obese due to living in an austere environment with barriers to healthy behaviors. Although obesity and hypertension are known to be related, researchers have not determined whether body fat distribution, general vs. abdominal, is predictive of blood pressure in emerging adults. Knowing which body fat distribution is the strongest predictor of blood pressure may help in evaluating cardiovascular risk in emerging adults.

Emerging adult men emphasized difficulty engaging in CVD health behaviors while attending college and choose to ignore long-term CVD risk. Overcoming college-specific and developmental barriers to engaging in healthy behaviors is critical to reducing cardiovascular risk in this population. Students living in rural, Appalachian Kentucky had more CVD risk behaviors and more were obese compared to those in urban Fayette County, Kentucky. Reducing CVD risk behaviors and obesity among students in rural Appalachian Kentucky may help decrease the high burden of CVD in this region. Findings suggest that waist circumference was the best predictor of systolic blood pressure among emerging adults in college.