Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research


Increases in the prevalence of disordered eating patterns have been linked to distress and poor mental well-being. Additionally, COVID-19 has been linked to both depressive and anxious symptomatology, along with increased feelings of distress (Fitzpatrick et al., 2020). Because disordered eating is particularly prevalent among college-age women, this study sought to determine how depression, anxiety, and stress affect eating behaviors of college women in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. One hundred seventy-nine women, aged 18–24, at Butler University gave informed consent before completing a questionnaire pertaining to their demographics, their stress surrounding COVID, and their weight change since March 2020. The next set of questionnaires asked about their anxiety, stress, and depression, as well as their eating behaviors at the time they were completing the survey (September–December 2021) and during the COVID-19 lockdown period (March–August 2020). Depression, anxiety, and stress were significantly higher during COVID-19 than during the fall of 2021, but college-age women reported more restraint in their eating at the time of the study. No overall differences emerged in uncontrolled or emotional eating across the two time points. In correlational analyses, depression and anxiety during COVID-19 correlated with both uncontrolled and emotional eating (depression also correlated with cognitive restraint). Although change in self-reported stress levels across time did not predict changes in disordered eating, improvements in depression and anxiety from Spring 2020 to Fall 2021 correlated with less emotional eating across time. Together, these findings reinforce past research showing that college-age women are a particularly vulnerable population during times of crisis.