New research shows that many Australian students are using an unhealthy concoction of junk food, sugary drinks and caffeine to cope with exam stress, a move that could be putting their marks—and their mental health—at risk.

A survey of more than 1,000 young people by Student Edge’s market research arm, YouthInsight, in partnership with frontline youth service ReachOut, found that 45 per cent of students’ diets were less healthy during exam time. Young people are turning to a mix of junk food (45 per cent), caffeine (41 per cent), sugary drinks (16 per cent) and energy drinks (14 per cent) to help them cope with stress in the lead up to end of year exams.

A poor diet combined with a lack of sleep (36 per cent of students reported sacrificing sleep) and exercise (64 per cent of respondents said they exercised less in the lead up to exams) can put general health and mental health at risk.

ReachOut CEO Ashley de Silva said that while the appeal of comfort foods and drinks was understandable, more nutritious options provided the right fuel for brains and bodies.

“We know that Australian students are more stressed than ever at exam time, with the number of young people seeking professional mental health and medical help doubling in the last 12 months,” Mr de Silva said.

“It’s tempting to rely on sugar and caffeine for a quick fix, but the reality is without a balanced approach you’re more likely to crash and burn.

“Healthy snacks and drinking plenty of water can have a big impact. It’s also important to be kind to yourself. So enjoy that Tim Tam but remember that cramming in lots of caffeine, sugar and junk food is unlikely to deliver the best results on exam day.”

Student Edge’s Head of Membership Simon Miraudo said that some of the results of the survey were alarming but there were simple things students could do to help relieve some of their unhealthy exam stress.

“We undertook this research to discover more about the habits of young people when it comes to end of year exams, to see how we can all help students during this super stressful time. Some of the results are quite alarming, especially when we look at the real impacts, like the fact that 37% of respondents reported sickness in the lead up to exams and 30% reported increased family issues,” he said.

“By sharing these findings in the lead up to exams and partnering with ReachOut we hope to encourage students to ditch the unhealthy habits.”

Lee Holmes, nutritionist and founder of Supercharged Foods, said that good nutrition is vital for a clear head and an energised body, and to help deal with stress at exam time.

“It’s easy to get into the habit of reaching for a coffee or an energy drink instead of water, or munching on chips and chocolate, because there’s little to no preparation time required,” she said.

“But the better the fuel your brain gets, the better you perform mentally. Plus, cooking can be a relaxing activity and a good use of that precious study break time. Research shows that the best fuel for the brain comes from sources like the antioxidants in berries and other fruit and vegetables and fatty acids like Omega-3 found in things like oily fish.”

The research was conducted by YouthInsight, the full-service market research arm of membership organisation Student Edge, to deliver unique insights into exam habits and stresses of Australian students aged 16 to 24.

Parents and young people seeking tips, articles and more about exam stress can visit

For more information about the research data, visit &

YouthInsight surveyed 1,027 students across Australia with age and gender quotas placed on to ensure a balanced sample. ‘Students’ refers to people currently studying between the ages of 16 and 24.

Tips for eating to beat exam stress:

  1. Try some simple food swaps. Swap a piece of cake for some wholegrain crackers with cheese and tomato, an energy drink for a fruit smoothie, or chips for a handful of nuts.
  2. Get a reusable water bottle that you can pop in your bag and refill regularly to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.
  3. Use your study break to prep some healthy snacks. Cooking can be great for relaxation and mindfulness, plus you’ll create some healthy snacks to help keep you away from the vending machine.
  4. Don’t deny yourself the occasional treat!
  5. Consider your caffeine intake as too much caffeine can increase your heart rate and create feelings similar to anxiety.
  6. Check out ReachOut’s guide to foods that help our brain study.

Header Image: ReachOut