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Food Selection Under Stress Among Undergraduate Students in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Authors Mohamed BA, Mahfouz MS, Badr MF

Received 1 November 2019

Accepted for publication 14 February 2020

Published 28 February 2020 Volume 2020:13 Pages 211—221


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Mei-chun Cheung

Badreldin Abdelrhman Mohamed,1 Mohamed Salih Mahfouz,2 Mohamed Farouk Badr1

1Department of Community Health Sciences, College of Applied Medical Sciences, King Saud University, Riyadh 11433, Saudi Arabia; 2Department of Family and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Jazan University, Jazan 45142, Saudi Arabia

Correspondence: Mohamed Salih Mahfouz
Department of Family and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, PO Box 2531, Jazan, Saudi Arabia

Background: University students might experience numerous sources of stress in their daily lives. Previous research has found that stress affects food selection patterns, but the effect might vary by country and sex. No previous study conducted in Saudi Arabia has assessed the association between stress and dietary habits among university students. Thus, this study aimed to examine the association between perceived stress and food selection patterns among undergraduate students by sex at King Saud University (KSU).
Methods: A cross-sectional study of 400 students attending the College of Applied Medical Sciences in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was conducted. The self-administered questionnaire that was used consisted of three sections: sociodemographic, food frequency questionnaire, and Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale.
Results: Approximately (59.0%) of the participants reported suffering from some level of stress, with more females (64.5%) experiencing stress than males (54.0%). The univariate analysis showed that under stress, more females (68.0%) reported eating more than usual than males (49.0%), while the percentage of respondents that reported eating less than usual was higher for females (23.0%) than that for males (31.0%). The McNemar test indicated that under stress, there was an increased preference for salty flavors, which was not associated with sex. Significantly more females (82.0%) than males (64.5%) reported preferring sweets under stress. More males reported preferring bitter and savory flavors than females. Under stress, females preferred homemade food, while males preferred takeout foods. More females (68.0%) reported losing control and overeating than males (49.0%). A logistic regression showed that for female students, perceived stress was associated with frequent consumption of sweets, cake/cookies, snacks and beverages and less frequent consumption of fruits and vegetables. For males, the consumption of fast food and meat was significantly positively associated with perceived stress.
Conclusion: Perceived stress led to unhealthy changes in eating patterns in both sexes, as evidenced by reports of an increased preference for sweets, snacks and cake/cookies among females and an increased preference for fast food and meat among males. These results may be potentially important targets for interventions for stress-related food consumption.

Keywords: stress, food intake, undergraduate students, sex, Riyadh

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