Stress and psychological constructs related to eating behavior are associated with anthropometry and body composition in young adults

Appetite. 2018 Jun 1;125:287-294. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.01.003. Epub 2018 Jan 5.


Background: The transition to college is associated with weight gain, but the relation between eating behavior indicators and anthropometric outcomes during this period remains unclear.

Objective: We aimed to evaluate sex differences in stress, emotional eating, tendency to overeat, and restrained eating behavior, and determine whether the psycho-behavioral constructs assessed immediately prior to starting college are associated with anthropometry and adiposity at the start of college, and with first-semester weight gain.

Methods: A prospective study administered the Three Factor Eating Questionnaire (TFEQ), Satter Eating Competence Inventory, and Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) to 264 participants one month before college. Body composition was assessed via dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) at the start of college, and anthropometry (weight, height, waist circumference [WC]) was collected at the beginning and end of the first semester. Ordinary least squares regression tested the cross-sectional association of baseline psychological and behavioral scales with baseline DXA and anthropometry, and the longitudinal association with change in anthropometry.

Results: Among 264 participants, 91% (241) had baseline data, and 66% (173) completed follow-up. In sex-adjusted linear regression models, baseline TFEQ disinhibited and emotional (DE; EE) eating sub-scales were positively associated with baseline weight (P = 0.003; DE, P = 0.014; EE), body mass index (BMI, P = 0.002; DE, P = 0.001; EE), WC (P = 0.004; DE, P = 0.006; EE) and DXA fat mass index (P = 0.023; DE, P = 0.014; EE). Baseline PSS was positively associated with subsequent changes in weight and WC among males only (Pinteraction = 0.0268 and 0.0017 for weight and WC, respectively).

Conclusion: College freshmen with questionnaire scores indicating a greater tendency to overeat in response to external cues and emotions tended to have greater weight, BMI, and WC at the start of college. Males with higher perceived stress at college entrance subsequently gained significantly more weight in the first semester, but no such relation was evident in females.

Keywords: Body composition; Emotional eating; Freshman weight; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adolescent
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / etiology
  • Hyperphagia / psychology*
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities
  • Waist Circumference
  • Weight Gain
  • Young Adult