Topical Area: Nutritional Epidemiology
Objectives : The purpose of this study was to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the relationship between psychological distress & unhealthy dietary behaviors in college students.
Methods : A 30-item electronic survey was sent to undergraduate students at a Midwestern University after being tested for face, content, & construct validity. Kesslers-6 (K6) scale was used to measure psychological distress & likelihood of serious mental illness (6 items assessing distress over the past month-response options ‘none of the time’ to ‘all of the time’). Dietary behaviors related to sugar, fat, & sodium consumption in a week were assessed through 7 items- response options ranging from ‘never’ to ‘always’.
Results : A total of 1170 students completed the survey (response rate=80%). Majority were Whites (78%), females (66%), 18-20 years old (74%), pursuing a non-health related degree (61%). The mean diet scores were: sugary foods (8.36 ±2.37), fatty foods (5.51±1.69), high sodium foods (Mean= 5.65 ±1.67). These items were added to create a composite unhealthy dietary behavior score (Mean= 19.52 ± 4.52). Statistically significant differences in consumption of sugary & fatty foods were found based on gender (males more likely to consume fatty foods & females more likely to consume sugary foods) & race (non-white students had higher composite unhealthy dietary behavior scores, p< 0.05). K6 scores (population mean= 15.50±4.93, range=6-30) were significantly higher among females, younger, & non-white students (p< 0.05). In multivariate linear regression, K-6 psychological distress scores were statistically significant predictors of dietary behaviors for sugar (r=0.45), fat (r=.33), & high sodium consumption (r=0.51). Even after adjusting for race, age, gender, year in college, & academic major, K-6 scores remained a significant predictor of unhealthy dietary behavior scores (i.e. higher K-6 score led to greater unhealthy dietary food consumption).
While college counselors & mental health professionals across the nation continue to address stress & mental health issues in college students, they should work with registered dietitian nutritionists to address nutrition problems that may be associated with mental health issues (e.g. unhealthy dietary practices & eating disorders).
Funding Sources : No funding was acquired for this study.