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Faculty Mentor

Lacey McCormack

Abstract

Introduction: Lifelong dietary habits are shaped during young adulthood; hence, preventing poor food choice practices during this period is vital. Stress and sleep deprivation are two important lifestyle elements that affect eating habits. The purpose of this study was to evaluate stress and sleep deprivation as factors contributing to poor dietary choices of college-aged students. Methodology: During finals week, a survey inquiring about sleep duration, perceived stress, and dietary patterns throughout the semester (typical week vs. finals week), was administered to university students (n=83). Fifty-five participants (21 male) provided an ID number, which allowed university-collected demographic and food-purchasing data to be merged with survey data. Survey data was analyzed using all 83 participant responses; questions using demographic variables and food-purchasing data utilized the 55 participant responses with ID. Results: Reported stress levels (on a scale of 1-10) were significantly higher during finals week compared to the rest of the semester (7.84 vs. 4.16,. Conclusion: Despite stress levels and sleep differing between a typical week and finals week, dietary behaviors were generally not impacted (i.e. healthy eating during a typical week remained as such during finals week). The low percentage of overall “more healthy” purchases suggests a disproportionately unhealthy campus food environment; however, the fact that females made significantly healthier choices implies that healthier eating is still an alterable choice. Interventions aimed at improving young adult dietary habits should promote healthy lifestyle behaviors over the course of a semester as opposed to focusing on specific time points during the semester (i.e. finals week).

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