Weight gain in first-semester university students: Positive sleep and diet practices associated with protective effects

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For university students, alterations in sleep and diet quality are common, and the propensity for weight gain is well established. The role of sleep duration during periods of rapid weight gain is understudied. This study explored the relationships between sleep duration, diet patterns, and body composition in first-year university students. Data collection occurred during the beginning of the fall (August) and spring semesters (January). Anthropometric measures included weight, height, and percent body fat (%BF). Survey questions assessed sleep and diet quality. As a group, participants (N = 60) gained weight (1.8 ± 2.1 kg) over the 4.5-month period of study. Hierarchical cluster analysis (HCA) identified three groups based on weight change between baseline and follow-up visits. Group 1 (“maintainers”) (N = 21) gained 0.1 ± 1.3 kg, group 2 (“modest gainers”) (N = 24) gained 2.0 ± 1.7 kg, and group 3 (“major gainers”) (N = 15) gained 3.8 ± 1.8 kg. No differences in weight, body mass index (BMI), %BF, or average sleep duration existed between clusters at baseline. Minimal differences in baseline dietary behaviors between groups were noted other than maintainers used more fat, e.g., butter, to season vegetables, bread, and potatoes compared to modest gainers (p =.010). At follow-up, sleep duration significantly decreased from baseline among major gainers (7.1 ± 0.7 vs. 6.8 ± 0.7 h, p =.017) while sleep duration increased from baseline among maintainers (7.3 ± 0.9 vs. 7.6 ± 1.0 h, p =.048). Sleep duration at follow-up was significantly shorter among major gainers compared to maintainers (p =.016). Total diet scores for maintainers and modest gainers improved between visits (p =.038 and 0.002, respectively) but did not change among major gainers. Combining sleep and diet education may increase the effectiveness of interventions designed to mitigate weight gain in this high-risk population.

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