Research suggests varied dietary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including an increase in meal and snack frequency. While some studies report an increase in home cooking and fresh produce consumption, others report less favorable changes in diet patterns. Limited research examines these patterns in college students.
This cross-sectional study explored self-reported changes in food intake patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic in a multiethnic sample of college students.
Study Design, Setting, and Participants
A web-based survey was administered to students enrolled in a general education introductory nutrition course during the 2020-2021 academic year. Two open-ended items were used to capture self-reported changes in food intake and drivers of those changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Food insecurity was assessed using the USDA six-item food security module.
Two researchers collaborated to develop a codebook and then assign codes independently to open-ended responses. Chi-square tests were used to investigate relationships between food security status and reported diet changes.
Participants (n = 436) were predominantly (77%) female; 39% identified as Hispanic/Latino, 33% identified as Asian/Pacific Islander, and 19% identified as Caucasian. A majority of participants (n = 295, 67.7%) reported diet changes as a result of the pandemic. Participants indicated mixed impacts on food intake, such as an increase or decrease in food intake, snacking more, eating less healthy, or eating healthier. Participants attributed diet changes to increased health consciousness, increased time at home, eating more home-prepared foods, changes in activity level, and increased feelings of boredom. Among respondents who reported a COVID-related diet impact, those experiencing food insecurity were more likely to report eating less healthy because of the pandemic (P = 0.01).
A majority of students reported a change in food intake; while the type of change varied, food insecurity emerged as a factor significantly associated with self-reported dietary changes considered less healthy.