Research Studies Connection Between Depression and Anxiety, and Dietary Choices in College Students

College students are faced with significant life changes that involve structural changes in their environment, their social life, and their professional life.

They’re faced with more demands from various directions, which usually require an increased responsibility and independence.

In other words, for most college students, this period is an intense and stressful one, and additional pressure can put a strain on their mental health.

In turn, mental health could seriously impact their lifestyle, diet being the most important element.

The connection between mental health and diet has been examined for quite some time, but with some inconsistencies.

Therefore, a recent study conducted by the University of Central Florida has attempted to bridge the gap and offer firmer evidence on how mental health could also impact dietary choices in college students.

What’s Important

It’s often thought that many enduring lifestyle habits are formed between the ages of 18-25, the typical age range for college students.

For this reason, building better habits is very important.

However, this also means that they’re at an increased risk of not only bad mental health but also an unbalanced diet.

It was previously established that there was a connection between depression and diet, where processed, high-fat, high-sugar food is associated with increased depressive symptoms.

For anxiety, on the other hand, there has not been a consensus on its exact connection with diet. This is one of the things this study aims to discover.

The Details

The participants of the study were undergraduate college students between the ages of 18 to 25.

They were screened for symptoms of anxiety and depression using a self-reporting questionnaire and asked to recall what they had eaten in the 24h before the assessment.

The goal was to examine the connection between depression and anxiety, and dietary choices in relation to biological sex.

The results were quite illuminating:

  • Overall, it was established that symptoms of both anxiety and depression led to a reduced total caloric intake, but an increased sugar consumption in all participants.
  • However, when it came to depression only, they observed a reduced intake of fruits, and vegetables, and increased intake of saturated fat in male students only.
  • Finally, the results imply that symptoms of depression are a greater risk for poor dietary choices for male than for female college students.

Bottom Line

It’s clear that mental health can affect behavior and change dietary choices.

This study exemplifies how important both elements are and how they can affect each other.


Resource: Keck, M.M.; Vivier, H.; Cassisi, J.E.; Dvorak, R.D.; Dunn, M.E.; Neer, S.M.; Ross, E.J. Examining the Role of Anxiety and Depression in Dietary Choices among College Students. Nutrients 2020, 12, 2061. doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12072061 

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