Previous research has established that there is a significant positive relationship between perceived stress and emotional eating behaviour (Nguyen-Rodriguez et al. 2008). This eating behaviour is believed to be associated with excessive snacking, weight gain, and bingeing (van Strien & Oosterveld 2008).
During the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a high occurrence of self-reported psychological distress symptoms (Bemanian et al. 2021). COVID-19 related worries as well as the negative effects resulting from isolation and lockdown on emotional wellbeing and eating behaviour are associated with increased emotional eating (Bemanian et al. 2021; Cecchetto et al. 2021)
Coping may serve as a mediator between perceived stress and health outcomes such as dietary intake in adolescents (Laitinen et al. 2002; Dinsmore & Stormshak 2003). Previous studies have found that the lack of adequate coping skills puts adolescents at risk of poor academic performance, psychological distress, suicidal attempts, anxiety, depression, smoking, substance abuse, high-risk sexual behaviours, conduct problems, violence, poor metabolic control and a lower degree of diabetes-related quality of life, overeating, unhealthy eating, eating disorders and obesity (Garcia 2010; Graue et al. 2004; Horwitz et al. 2011; Martyn-Nemeth et al. 2009; Fryer et al. 1997; Frydenberg & Lewis 2004). Researchers have found that, in response to a stressful situation, an adolescent’s use of functional coping strategies is associated with fewer negative outcomes than the use of dysfunctional coping strategies, such as less general health problems, less mental health problems and less eating and dietary problems (Elgar et al. 2003; Steiner et al. 2002). If the coping skills of an adolescent can be improved, more positive health outcomes should, therefore, be expected as the adolescent would perceive and react to a stressor in a different manner (Garcia 2010).
Many of the studies that have investigated the relationship between perceived stress, coping and eating behaviours in adolescents have concluded that future research needs to focus on interventions that aim at improving coping skills and stress management skills as a means to decrease emotional eating (Bennett et al. 2013; Nguyen-Rodriguez et al. 2008),
Since higher levels of perceived stress have been found to be related to higher levels of emotional eating, it is important to examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on college students in terms of stress and eating behaviours.
The aims of the proposed study are to:
- examine the relationship between emotional eating, perceived stress, coping and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in college students
- devise a model to guide the development of effective college-based services/intervention to assist students in decreasing emotional eating behaviours and perceived stress levels and increasing functional coping strategies
Cross-sectional data will be collected from MCAST Students (age 16 +) using an online questionnaire with self-report measures examining perceived stress, coping responses, and eating behaviours.