The National Institutes of Health is spending over $50,000 to study whether college students eat junk food when they drink.
The two-year study rests on the hypothesis that "heavy drinking may lead to unhealthy eating habits surrounding drinking episodes." The study also will "determine whether heavy alcohol use contributes to weight gain among college freshmen."
Roughly 175 college freshmen at the University of Kansas will be weighed three times a year for the study and asked questions about their eating habits when drinking.
The researchers say that junk food has been "overlooked" when studying why college freshmen gain weight.
"Heavy alcohol use, weight gain, and obesity are highly prevalent among college students," according to a grant for the project, which was awarded this summer. "Alcohol is a dense calorie source and heavy use during college may lead to weight gain that is maintained through adulthood. However, examination of this potential effect in college students has been limited to secondary analysis of existing datasets with weak, often non-validated assessment of alcohol consumption."
"In addition to being a caloric source, heavy drinking may lead to unhealthy eating habits surrounding drinking episodes, which may also contribute to weight gain," the grant said.
The project has cost taxpayers $56,698. The NIH has already poured over $1.5 million into studying the so-called "freshmen 15." The ongoing study is focusing on how college friends eat together and then gain weight during their first year at school.
Researchers on the latest study contend there is a "critical barrier" to studying why college students put on pounds because of a "lack of evidence on how heavy alcohol use contributes to weight gain in students."
The goal of the project is to develop an "intervention" for college students who eat junk food when they drink.
"Some students frequently eat excess, calorie-dense food during drinking episodes, possibly due to the increased rewarding value of food while intoxicated, while others restrict food before drinking to compensate for alcohol calories," the grant said. "Body mass index (BMI) during young adulthood is highly predictive of BMI later in life, and obesity is associated with a host of health problems. The long-term goal of this research is to develop a prevention intervention that addresses both problems in college students."
A "diverse group" of 174 college freshmen will be "assessed three times during the academic year to evaluate changes in weight, waist circumference, alcohol use, diet, eating behavior, impulsivity, and motivation to drink alcohol and eat palatable food."