Recent quantitative studies have illuminated dietary- and lifestyle-related changes that students experienced during global coronavirus lockdowns. Limited qualitative research on the US undergraduate student population has been published on this topic.
The study aimed to describe eating-related behavior changes reported by US undergraduate students during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a secondary aim, this study described behavior changes among students who were and were not Eating Competent (EC).
Study Design, Setting, Participants
This was a secondary analysis of data collected from an online survey administered from October through December 2020 to students at a major northwestern public university. The original survey consisted of previously validated and/or published instruments, including the Satter Eating Competence Inventory (ecSI 2.0™). Using a direct content analysis approach, this study coded respondents’ answers to the open-ended question “In what ways have your eating habits changed since the US coronavirus outbreak?”
Codes were written and classified under the four dimensions of Eating Competence: Eating Attitudes, Food Acceptance, Internal Regulation, and Contextual Skills. Other codes were developed to represent responses that did not fit within these dimensions. Respondents were categorized as EC or not EC based on their ecSI 2.0™scores.
Responses from 1,529 participants were analyzed. Preliminary findings indicate that EC university students more frequently reported behavior changes like eating more fruits and vegetables and more home-cooked meals than non-EC students. Non-EC students more often reported eating more takeout, more processed foods, and more sugar compared to EC students. Mental-health-related changes, eating less regularly, disordered eating, and weight concerns were more commonly reported by non-EC students.
Compared to non-EC students, EC students reported more health-promoting behavior changes during the pandemic. This study highlights the potential benefit of teaching EC-related strategies to the US undergraduate student population and further elucidates behavior changes among students during the COVID-19 pandemic.