Among 253 students preparing for the Leaving Certificate or a third-level exam, it emerged that almost half of female students ate more junk food at this time, compared to less than two-in-five males.
While normally female students eat more healthily than their male counterparts, snacking on tea, fresh fruit, juice, yoghurt or crackers, their male counterparts are more likely to choose crisps, soft drinks or coffee. At exam time, pressure causes girls to reach for crisps.
Girls are far more likely to change their eating habits and to eat snacks during intense study, it also emerged.
“I don’t know the reason why females eat more unhealthily in the run-up to and during exams, perhaps they get more stressed and boys are more laid back,” said consultant dietician and nutritionist Aoife Kirwan.
She was speaking as the survey results which were published in Dublin yesterday, along with the launch of a website promoting fish eating by TV presenter and teacher Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin. The brainfood.ie site is funded by John West to promote its fish products, and explains how Omega 3 oil, found in fish, helps concentration and learning.
The survey also found that students who live at home tend to eat more healthily, with two-thirds of them more likely to eat regular breakfast, lunch and dinner during heavy study periods, compared to just half of those living away from home.
While less than one-in-20 boys eat the recommended five or more portions of fruit and vegetables, the equivalent figure for females was one-in-seven.
More than 40% of mothers of students said they believe their children’s eating habits did not change during intense study, three times the proportion of students saying the same thing about themselves. The survey also found that the 301 mothers who took part were half as likely as students themselves to believe their child snacked more during intense study periods.
Almost 55,400 people will begin the Leaving Certificate next Wednesday, June 3, while 3,269 will sit Leaving Certificate Applied exams and more than 56,500 have registered to sit the Junior Certificate starting on the same day.