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Students, please take note. Increased stress during examinations is associated with eating a poor-quality diet including less fruit and vegetables and more fast food, say researchers.
The research, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, suggests that students have difficulties eating healthy food and find themselves adopting bad eating habits, leading to stress.
"Stress has long been implicated in a poor diet. People tend to report overeating and comfort eating foods high in fat, sugar and calories in times of stress.
"Our findings looking at the eating habits of students during exam periods confirm this stress-induced dietary deterioration hypothesis," said Nathalie Michels, lead researcher from Ghent University in Belgium.
The results are based on an anonymous online survey of 232 students (aged 19-22 years) recruited from Ghent University and other universities in Belgium.
The researchers investigated the relationship between exam stress and change in dietary quality, and whether these associations were modified by psychosocial factors such as eating behaviour, food choice motive, taste preference, reward/punishment sensitivity, impulsivity, coping strategies, sedentary behaviour and social support.
During the month-long exam period, participants found it harder to stick to a healthy diet, and only a quarter fulfilled the WHO recommended 400g of fruit and vegetables a day.
"To fight against stress-induced eating, prevention strategies should integrate psychological and lifestyle aspects including stress management (like emotion regulation training, mindfulness, yoga), nutritional education with techniques for self-effectiveness, awareness of eating-without-hunger, and creating an environment that stimulates a healthy diet and physical activity", Michels elaborated.