Date of Award

12-2007

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Nutrition

Major Professor

Lisa Jahns

Committee Members

Jay Whelan, Lana Dixon

Abstract

Background: The effects of psychological stress on eating behaviors either through psychological/social influences (i.e. comfort foods, learned behaviors) or psychoneuroendocrine pathways have been studied for many years; however, a review of current research is lacking. The purpose of this study is to conduct a systematic literature review of the relationship between stress and eating behaviors with a concentration on how stress and eating behaviors are measured.

Methods: PubMed and PsycINFO databases were searched to identify peer-reviewed English-language human studies published between 1966 and March 2006. Keywords and subject headings used were: stress, eating, feeding behaviors, food habits, energy intake, diet, appetite, stress-related eating, stress eating, stress induced eating, and dietary restraint. This resulted in the retrieval of 1025 citations. Numerous exclusion criteria were applied and after review, 50 articles were deemed relevant and included in the study.

Results: There is little consistency in either measurement of stress or measurement of eating behavior. Despite the heterogeneity in both exposure and outcomes, studies have found some relationships between stress and eating. Stress may impact intake by increasing or decreasing frequency of eating or increasing selection of foods high in fat, sugar, and/or salt.

Conclusions: The variety in the measurement of both stress and eating behavior in the stress-eating literature has produced wide-ranging and somewhat inconsistent results. Oftentimes the participants are studied in either a laboratory setting or at only one point in time, both of which are insufficient to measure overall changes in diet caused by stress. Further research, including more comprehensive assessment of eating behavior changes caused by stress, is needed to better understand the stress-eating relationship and its possible health effects. In the fast-paced society we live in, many individuals experience high levels of stress on a daily basis, creating the potential to significantly contribute to unhealthy dietary behaviors both immediately and long-term.

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