— Nikki Hunt contributed with this report
Recent studies have shown that stress may well bring on obesity due to overeating and not getting enough exercise. To see how this could be affecting students, I spoke to Sarah Kirk about her experience.
Well into her third year and with a dissertation looming, Sarah, 20, from Lincoln, is feeling more stressed than she ever has before.
Sarah believes she has put on about two stone since she began university, saying: “[my eating habits are] quite poor really. I was getting the bus everyday to university and eating a lot of trashy foods either at home, at lunch, or when I was eating out a lot with friends.”
Scientific studies show that stress may stimulate obesity by unlocking the body’s fat cells. Food that are high in fat and sugar also known as “comfort-foods” are often consumed as a way of coping with any stress. A lack of exercise means that none of the extra calories will be burnt off and will result in weight gain.
Sarah says she thinks she has put on the weight because of a “decrease in level of exercise and an increase in the amount of unhealthy or processed foods eaten.”
The amount of work you are given at university can be quite overwhelming, she says. “The amount of work you have to do, the amount of deadlines and lack of sleep is kind of stressful.”
About 46% of men and 32% of women in the UK are overweight. This has roughly doubled since the mid-1980s. 2009 saw the launch of the first National Obesity Week campaign, aiming to raise awareness of the fact that almost half of all adults have an inaccurate idea of their own weight.
Research found that there are five factors of stress particularly in adolescents that could lead to obesity: academic problems, consumption of drugs and alcohol, depression or poor mental health levels, acting out or aggressive behaviours, and lack of future orientation.
Anna Cotton, 18, from Sheffield, has also had an experience of weight gain at university. “I have put weight on and I hate it. I think it’s partly due to stress, eating late at night, drinking more. A general bad diet.”
Part of being a student is making new friends and having fun but this is impacting on health. The government advise that a healthy diet contains plenty of starchy, high fibre foods like wholemeal bread or pasta, at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily with moderate amounts of dairy products, meat or fish, the occasional treat and little salt.
The Times described “seven deadly sins of the student diet” as alcohol, all-night working sessions, money stress, socialising, 24-hour food, eating on the move, and the takeaway. All of which add up to a very unhealthy lifestyle and inevitable weight gain.
Gillian Merron, a Department of Health minister and MP for Lincoln says that “obesity is one of the biggest health challenges we face”.
Students need to be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle whilst at university and know that there is help and advice available if they need it. Many students don’t know if the campus doctor deals with this kind of problem.
“I know that there is a campus doctor available but I don’t really know what help is available. But I think there is always a lot of help offered by tutors,” says Sarah.Tweet