Story at a glance

  • Many people have been experiencing food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • A survey of young adults in particular suggests that nearly a third of them are affected.
  • Respondents who are Black, Indigenous or other people of color have also reported that they’ve also been subject to discrimination or harassment that’s affected their food shopping.

Food insecurity has been a major issue for many people during the pandemic. It’s not only important in terms of thinking about survival but also for long-term nutrition and health. One new study looks at a specific age group, young adults, to try to understand what challenges they are facing when it comes to food insecurity.

In a study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers combed through data from a COVID-19 food and eating survey. The data was collected from April to October 2020 and included 720 participants who were ages 18 to 29, which the researchers classified as emerging adults.

The researchers found that nearly a third of emerging adults experienced food insecurity in the past year. A disproportionate number of them were people living with children and those who identified as Black, Indigenous or a person of color.

The survey also revealed that many emerging adults had to make changes to their eating behaviors during the pandemic, including eating more fast food and processed foods. Many participants in the study also ate more sporadically.


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The team was interested in what barriers to access exist for Black, Indigenous and people of color. Participants reported experiencing discrimination and xenophobia while shopping for food, as well as excessive monitoring and verbal harassment.

“Our findings show an urgent need for research to address how the processes of racism that are embedded in the policies and practices of society and institutions are directly contributing to food insecurity,” says study lead Nicole Larson, who is a Senior Research Associate at the School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, in a press release.

Participants also encountered barriers to access food assistance. They reported factors like limited eligibility for assistance or concerns about measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission and physical safety that kept them from getting the assistance they needed.

“The findings also support recent calls for expanding federal food assistance benefits for postsecondary students as the comments made by many emerging adult participants indicated that both students and workers were not eligible for adequate benefits to meet their food needs,” says Larson.

The authors recommend expanded food assistance services and interventions specific to COVID-19. For example, there could be communication through multiple channels and opening hours could vary to allow for different schedules.

“It is heartbreaking to learn about the high levels of food insecurity so close to home. It is incumbent upon all of us to work toward eliminating food insecurity and ensuring that all people have access to adequate amounts of healthful foods,” says Larson. “We need to work now to prevent a widening of disparities following this global pandemic.”


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Published on Jul 21, 2021