Stress and food intake for college students

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Mental health issues including depression, stress, and other psychiatric symptoms are increasingly becoming a prevalent phenomenon among college and university students across the world. While joining an institution of higher education is often perceived as the beginning of an exciting journey, it is often accompanied by other stressors such as financial constraints, academic workloads, unfamiliar environments away from family and friends, loss of social support systems in addition to increased responsibilities. Further, students are required to achieve academic excellence while also adapting to the changes. These factors are significant contributors to mental health issues, which in turn affects the dietary habits as it affects the personal choices of the foods consumed.

This research paper introduces three different external sources that discuss the correlation between food consumption and mental health and all from reputable journals. The common finding is that stress-related symptoms among university/college students changed their food intake. The first source evaluates data collected from college students on how stress affected their eating behviors. In particular, students self-reported that their consumption of snack-like foods increased during stressful incidents (Oliver & Wardle, 1999). The second source also found that perceived stress leads to less adherence to dietary guidelines, which characterized by less intake of fruits and vegetables in underweight, overweight, and individuals of normal BMI (Ansari, Suominen & Berg-Beckhoff, 2015). Similarly, the third article also found that there is a relationship between the frequency of food consumption with stress and depression (Liu et al., 2007). All the three sources are instrumental to my research as their findings lead to a common conclusion, that is, perceived stress has an impact on the dietary habits of young adults especially college students.

Perceived Effects of Stress on Food Choice

The authors applied the self-reporting methodology on two hundred on twelve college students for the purposes of evaluating the frequencies of stress-related hypophagia and hyperphagia, assessing the relationship between eating habits under stress with gender and dieting statuses in addition to testing whether overeating is higher for snack-type foods. A higher number of 9the respondents (73%) manifested an increased intake of snacks across all genders and dieting statuses. Specifically, these snacks included sweets and chocolates especially among the female respondents (hyperphagia), with lesser intake of fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish (hypophagia). Of the all the respondents, 42% reported to eat much more while 38% reported to eat less. This study confirmed that young adults perceive stress to influence their eating patterns.

This journal article makes significant contribution to my research as it provides actual data collected from college students. My research argues stress-induced food patterns affect all students across gender lines. Consequently, Oliver & Wardle’s respondents are predominantly female and there is difference observed in respect to gender. All respondents reported a hyperphagic reaction to stress. In addition, since stressful moments require high levels of energy, young adults are more likely to consume palatable foods, a hypothesis that is tested and confirmed in this research. This means that the dietary role is of more concern, that is, the energy density, which is a common characteristic of most of the snack-like food. This article is critical because it provides me with a framework within which I can carry out my research. Its statistical approach will be of great help as I intend to also use this method in my research.

Mood and Food at the University of Turku in Finland: Nutritional Correlates of Perceived Stress are most pronounced among Overweight Students

This second article, although taking on a similar approach as the first article of self-reporting, it is slightly different as it is conducted through an online survey. The main focus was the magnitude of the impact of stress-induced eating habits on individuals of different BMI, that is, the overweight v normal BMI or underweight. The authors first acknowledge that the college setting is indeed filled with numerous stress factors, which vary across different countries and cultures. The results found that consumption of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables was negatively affected while the intake of sweets, cookies, and snacks significantly increased, which agrees with the first article.

One of the most significant things about this article is its wide reference to other literature in the same field both with diverging and similar findings. It therefore provides an emphasis on a widely recognized phenomenon across the relevant academic fields. What sets it apart however is its specific findings of the negative relationship of food consumption for stressed students and their BMI. The effect on overweight students is more pronounced than it is on individuals of other BMI levels. Since the aim of the survey was providing general health and well-being status among Finnish students, it also provided significant planning and implementation policies, which if implemented can influence healthy eating habits in accordance with dietary guidelines. In addition, the study was cross-sectional, providing more inclusive and thorough results. It was also in the form of a statistical analysis from data collected across different demographic, an approach that I seek to also use in my research.

Perceived Stress, Depression and Food Consumption Frequency in the College Students of China Seven Cities

The authors in this article take a relatively different approach off the impact of food on an individual’s mood and ultimately on the stress and depression levels. Consequently, the authors sought to evaluate the categories of foods that are more influential on the stress and depression levels as well as the correlation between the frequencies of their consumption. Presenting ten different categories of food to students of different backgrounds in relation to socioeconomic and cultural differences, data on the frequency of dietary intake over one month was collected. As with the first two articles, this article also found a correlation between stress and depression and eating patterns.

This article provided great insight into the effect of the serotonin system and appetite shifts mechanisms as the greatest contributing factors to the high consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods by students while under perceived stress or depression. Stressed and depressed students have an inability of preventing themselves from consuming the perceived unhealthy foods, which they would not consume while under normal circumstances.

The three articles confirm the existence of a relationship between intake consumption and mental health especially in regards to maintenance of energy levels and mood stabilization. Foods, in particular carbohydrates, have been believed to be stress relievers. The articles provide evidentiary arguments on the concept that upholding dietary guidelines is more challenging for people under distress. Under their guidance, my research aims at contributing to the existing literature.

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  1. Ansari, W. E., Suominen, S., & Berg-Beckhoff, G., (2015). Mood and Food at the University of Turku in Finland: Nutritional Correlates of Perceived Stress are most pronounced among Overweight Students. International Journal of Public Health, 60, pp. 707-716.
  2. Liu, C., et al. (2007). Perceived Stress, Depression and Food Consumption Frequency in the College Students of China Seven Cities. Physiology & Behavior, 92, pp. 748-754.
  3. Oliver, G., & Wardle, J., (1999). Perceived Effects of Stress on Food Choice. Physiology & Behavior, 66(3), pp. 511-515.
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