Students’ late night eating may cause weight gain

Sammy Caiola

As a Northwestern student, late-night study sessions and the snacks that accompany them can become a way of life. But this practice could put students at risk for weight gain, according to a recent study from the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Researchers studied 51 participants over a seven-day period, tracking their sleep schedules and food intake. Results showed that participants who stayed up late and slept in gained 248 more calories per day. These participants showed a higher calorie intake after 8 p.m., more fast food, more full-calorie sodas and fewer fruits and vegetables compared with normal sleepers.

Kelly Glazer Baron, an instructor in Feinberg’s Department of Neurology and co-author of the study, said when people enter their teenage years, they experience a shift in their biological rhythms that cause them to stay up later. She said sleep deprivation, as well as the variety of food available late at night, can increase calorie intake for college students.

“If you’re eating outside typical meal time, you’ll be exposed to more snack food or fast food,” Glazer Baron said. “If you’re eating in social settings, you’re probably eating high calorie food. The longer you’re awake, and when you’re sleep deprived, that relates to hunger and gaining more calories.”

Medill sophomore Linda Calles said the college lifestyle encourages late night eating and referenced her dorm’s 10 p.m. munchies. She said ordering midnight pizza was a common practice in the dorm.

“It’s a bad habit,” Calles said. “It’s just tempting cause it’s there, and I feel like we’re so active during the day, so at night we get really hungry.”

Linda Van Horn, a clinical nutrition epidemiologist in Feinberg’s Department of Preventative Medicine said students tend to use food as a way to stay up, but this can be more hurtful than helpful.

When students stay up late, she said, they tend to eat things like pizza or ice cream, which contain “empty calories,” or calories without any nutrients. These foods provide the body with energy, she said, but they contribute nothing to health and also contribute to weight gain.

“If college students are pulling all-nighters or working, they’ll use food as a way to stay awake and stay focused on what they’re trying to do,” Van Horn said. “That doesn’t come without a price tag, and that price tag is extra calories.”

The study also found that participants who ate past 8 p.m. had a greater increase in body mass index by the end of the seven-day period than participants on regular sleep schedules. The study was conducted in 2009, and after two years of data analysis was published online by a research journal called Obesity, Glazer-Baron said. The study is slated to run in Obesity’s summer issue.

McCormick freshman Amanda Niem said dining halls could be to blame for late night eating. Niem said that because dining halls close so early, she eats dinner at 5 or 6 p.m. and gets hungry again while studying.

“I just do it to have something to do while I study,” Niem said.

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