The COVID-19 pandemic has had impactful and possibly long-term effects on the lives of college students. This may be particularly challenging for food insecure students, who are at a higher risk for negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of COVID-19 on the health behaviors and mental health of food insecure college students.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
A mixed-methods study design was used to determine the changes in mental and health behaviors in food insecure college students. Students completed 2 surveys over 6 months, pre and post COVID-19. Surveys were composed of validated measures and open-ended questions. Participants were asked to describe their demographics, food security, fruit and vegetable intake, stress, and life satisfaction. Food insecure students (n = 41) were recruited from Florida International University. Participants were female (92.5%), White Caucasian (42.5%), and Hispanic (60%), and of normal BMI (52.5%).
Statistical analysis was performed using SPSS v26. Descriptive statistics, frequencies, and t tests were performed on validated measures. Diet and physical activity open response questions were categorized into positive, negative or neutral changes due to COVID-19. Overall changes went through a thematic review and were categorized into themes.
Post COVID-19, participants significantly decreased their fruit and vegetable intake (t = -2.12, P = 0.04). Participants indicated both positive and negative changes in diet and physical activity. Participants also increased their perceived stress (t = 2.37, P = 0.02) and decreased life satisfaction (t = -3.03, P < 0.01) but indicated positive changes including getting closer to family and friends, improved work, school, and finances, and had increased time to enjoy activities.
COVID-19 had both positive and detrimental effects on diet, physical activity, stress and life satisfaction of food insecure students. While overall measures declined, students indicated that quarantine gave them an opportunity to work on personal relationships and mental health.