The urge to chow down on sweets and fast food at stressful times knows no boundaries, at least among women. Men, it would appear, don’t seek the comfort eating ‘high’.
Female first-year college students from Germany, Poland and Bulgaria all reported eating more of these types of foods if they felt stressed out, and fewer fruits and vegetables, Dr Rafael T. Mikolajczyk of the University of Bielefeld in Germany and colleagues found.
But stress had no relationship to male students' eating habits.
There are a multitude of studies linking stress to eating unhealthy foods and eating too much. But little is known about how stress might change eating patterns in college students, among whom both stress and unhealthy eating are common.
How the study was done
To investigate, the researchers surveyed 696 first-year students at the University of Bielefeld, 489 at the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland, and 654 at Sofia University in Bulgaria. They included equal amounts of students from natural sciences, social sciences and languages, and law and economics.
Students were asked how frequently they ate several different types of foods, and also completed questionnaires measuring their levels of perceived stress and depressive symptoms.
Among the male students, there was no relationship between the frequency of eating certain types of foods and levels of stress or depressive symptoms.
But for the young women, those who ate more "carbohydrate-dense" foods like snacks, cookies and sweets had higher stress levels, and ate fewer fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetable consumption also was lower among female students who were more depressed; these women also ate less meat.
"Our findings," the researchers conclude, "suggest that interventions oriented towards perceived stress and depressive symptoms in female students should also address the issue of healthy nutrition."
"Additionally, efforts to reduce depressive symptoms and stress among female students may lead to the consumption of healthier foods and/or vice-versa." - (Reuters Health, August 2009)
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