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DOI: 10.1101/2023.05.17.23290100

Emotional overeating affected nine in ten female students during the COVID-19 University closure: A cross-sectional study in France

A.Constant A. Fortier Y. Serrand ...+5 D. Val-Laillet
Objectives: To estimate the proportion of female university students reporting overeating (EO) in response to emotions during the COVID-19 university closures, and to investigate social and psychological factors associated with this response to stress. Design: Online survey gathered sociodemographic data, alcohol/drugs use disorders, boredom proneness and impulsivity using validated questionnaires, and EO using the Emotional Overeating Questionnaire (EOQ) assessing eating in response to six emotions (anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger, fatigue, happiness), whose structure remains to be determined. Participants: Sample of 302 female students from Rennes University, France. Main Outcome Measure: Frequencies of emotional overeating. Analysis: The frequency of emotional overeating was expressed for each emotion as percentages. Exploratory Factor analyses (EFA) were used to determine EOQ structure and provide an index of all EOQ items used for further analysis. Linear regression models were used to explore relationships between EO and others covariates. Results: Nine in ten participants reported intermittent EO in the last 28 days, mostly during 6 to 12 days, in response to Anxiety (75.5%), Sadness (64.5%), Happiness (59.9%), Loneliness (57.9%), Tiredness (51.7%), and to a lesser extent to Anger (31.1%). EFA evidenced a one-factor latent variable reflecting "Distress-Induced Overeating" positively correlated with internal boredom proneness, tobacco use, attentional impulsivity, inability to resist emotional cues, and loss of control over food intake, and negatively with age and well-being. EO was unrelated to body mass index or substance abuse. Conclusion and Implications: Nine in ten female students reported emotional overeating during the COVID-19 university closure. This response to stress was related to eating tendencies typical of young women, but also to personality/behavioral patterns such as boredom and impulsivity proneness. Better understanding of the mechanisms underlying EO in response to stress and lack of external/social stimulation would improve preventive interventions.