Effects of a naturally occurring stressor on health behaviors and their psychosocial correlates

James J. Annesi, Kennesaw State University


Demands of a university semester and approaching final academic examinations could induce increased anxiety and fatigue, which might prompt deteriorations in health behaviors. Female undergraduate nursing and health promotion students (Mage = 23.8 years) with overweight/obesity (n = 30) and without overweight/obesity (n = 62) completed validated measures just prior to final exams, and after recalling behaviors and perceptions at semester start. There were significant increases in tension, fatigue, anxiety-related emotional eating, and sweets; and significant decreases in eating- and exercise-related self-regulation, fruit/vegetable intake, and physical activity. Overweight/obese participants had significantly more reductions in self-regulation, and increases in sweets. Self-regulation significantly mediated relationships between changes in tension and the consumption of both fruits/vegetables and sweets, and change in anxiety-related emotional eating was not a significant moderator of the mood–behavior change relationships. Change in self-regulation significantly mediated the relationship between increase in fatigue and reduction in physical activity. Changes in fruit/vegetable intake, sweets consumption, and physical activity significantly predicted weight change during the semester when participants’ initial BMI was entered into the regression equation. Results suggested that the mood-related changes in fruit/vegetable intake, sweets consumption, and physical activity were largely through changes in participants’ self-regulatory processes. Possible interventions were suggested.