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OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between stress and food selection patterns by sex among first-year undergraduate students studying in an Australian university. METHODS: Participating in this cross-sectional study were 728 (331 men and 397 female students) first-year students, ages >18 y, attending the Gold Coast Campus of Griffith University. Data were collected using a self-administered questionnaire consisting of three sections: sociodemographic information, stress measures, and a 7-d food frequency questionnaire. RESULTS: More than half (52.9%) of the participants were found to suffer from some level of stress, with relatively more female students (57.4%) suffering than men (47.4%). Men who experienced mild to moderate levels of stress were two to three times more likely to eat cereal foods (P < 0.01), fish/seafood (P < 0.001), and protein powder (P < 0.05). They also tended to eat more meat alternatives (P < 0.05), highly processed foods (P < 0.05), and to drink more alcohol (P < 0.05) than unstressed male students. However, they were less likely to consume vegetables and fruit (P < 0.05) compared with their unstressed counterparts. The trend analysis results indicated significant dose-response patterns in the relationship between stress level and consumption of cereal food, meat alternatives, vegetables and fruit (negative trend), highly processed food, protein powder, beverages and alcoholic beverages (all P < 0.05). Female students who experienced mild to moderate stress were 2.22 times more likely to eat processed food (P < 0.01) than unstressed female students. Female students who experienced severe stress were less likely to consume meat alternatives (P < 0.05) than their unstressed counterparts. Significant dose-response trends were found in the relationship between stress levels and the consumption of meat alternatives, vegetables and fruit (both negative trends), and processed food (all P < 0.01). CONCLUSION: These results demonstrate a clear difference in food selection patterns between stressed male and female students, with stress being a more significant predictor of unhealthy food selection among male students. Further research is needed using a qualitative approach to understand how stress and eating behavior are related in university students.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





324 - 330


Australia, Dietary pattern, Stress, Students, Adolescent, Australia, Beverages, Body Mass Index, Cross-Sectional Studies, Edible Grain, Energy Intake, Fast Foods, Feeding Behavior, Female, Fruit, Ghana, Humans, Logistic Models, Male, Meat, Multivariate Analysis, Seafood, Sex Factors, Socioeconomic Factors, Stress, Psychological, Students, Surveys and Questionnaires, Universities, Vegetables, Young Adult