Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Nutrition and Food Science


Nutrition and Food Sciences

First Advisor

Kathleen Melanson


Background: Obesity is a nationwide concern across all age groups including the college-aged population. Approximately 35% of college students are reported to be overweight or obese in America, as defined by a body mass index (BMI) over 25 kg/m2. Increased caloric intake has shown to be associated with an elevated BMI. Nighttime eating may be a contributing factor to increased total caloric intake, and it has been associated with higher total caloric intake and weight gain in shift workers and older adults. However, research has not examined whether an association exists between nighttime eating and total daily caloric intake in college-aged students. Nighttime eating has been identified by college students as a potential concern for weight gain, thus making this an important and novel investigation.

Objective: The primary objective was to examine possible relationships between nighttime eating and total caloric intake amongst college-aged undergraduate students at the University of Rhode Island (URI) during three consecutive semesters. The secondary objectives were to investigate associations between nighttime eating and dietary quality and sleep patterns. The exploratory objectives were to consider associations between nighttime eating and metabolic syndrome (MetS) risk and body composition. The primary hypothesis was that nighttime eaters would have a higher caloric intake.

Design and Methods: This cross-sectional data analysis was an add-on study to an ongoing secondary data analysis project that examines the relationship between diet and chronic disease risk in college-aged students, referred to as the Nutrition Assessment Secondary Data Analysis Project. Undergraduate students (n=173, 72.25% females; BMI=23.7kg/m2) completed the Nutrition Assessment Survey (NAS) to categorize nighttime eaters and assess quantitative sleep patterns. Statistically controlled for confounding variables included, gender and smoking status. The International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) assessed activity levels. The Diet History Questionnaire (DHQ II), a web-based food frequency questionnaire, estimated total caloric intake. The DHQ II was also used to calculate the total and component scores of the Healthy Eating Index-2010 (HEI-2010), an indicator of dietary quality. Anthropometric and biochemical measures were taken to determine the students’ number of risk factors for MetS and body weight status.

Results: In this population, caloric intake within 2 hours of sleep or after 10:00PM provided more accurate definitions of nighttime eating than in other populations. Caloric intake after 10:00PM and within 2 hours (p=.015, r2=.034) of sleep onset was related to higher caloric consumption (+235.56 - 543.07kcals), lower HEI-2010 total scores (-4.78 – 5.91), and more MetS risk factors.

Conclusion: This analysis aimed to determine if nighttime eating was associated with differential total daily caloric intake, along with dietary quality, sleep patterns, MetS risk, and BMI status. This study identified previously uninvestigated information regarding the prevalence of nighttime eating, along with differences in several health-related variables between students who engage in nighttime eating and those who do not. Nighttime eating was associated with increased caloric intake and a poorer diet quality in college students.



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