Exam stress linked to eating junk food

When exams are nearing, do you stock up on energy drinks, cookies and oven pizzas? Science says you probably do. Researchers at the University of Ghent have found a link between increased stress during university exams and unhealthy food choices.

A busy brain can lead to bad food cravings. That’s nothing new—scientists have long argued that stress contributes to making unhealthy dietary choices. But a group of researchers at Ghent University wanted to check whether such a link can also be found in the context of exam stress on university campuses.

The researchers conducted a longitudinal study of 232 Flemish students, who completed questionnaires on their perceived stress and eating behaviors before and after an exam period. The study was presented on Wednesday at this year’s European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow.

Optimal academic performance

It turns out that students have difficulties to maintain a healthy diet during exam periods. They eat less fruit and vegetables, while snacking more and eating increased amounts of fast food.

According to the authors, these are negative results. Students are at risk for unhealthy eating during an exam period, the researchers write, “while a healthy diet is needed at that moment for optimal academic and mental performance.”

Students tend to fuel their overworked brains with sugary and high-fat foods during exams, but this may not benefit their test scores. The authors suggest that students should become more aware of the fact that poor dietary choices can be harmful in a variety of ways, including disappointing exam results. 

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