Food insecurity during COVID-19: An Australian university experience

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The aim of this study was to describe the prevalence, severity, coping strategies and precipitating factors of food insecurity in university students in a large multi-campus Australian university during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, in context of providing information to inform institutional support. This was a cross-sectional analysis which was part of a larger university-led research project, the Thrive@Home study conducted at Monash University during the COVID-19 pandemic. The main outcome measures included: Sociodemographic characteristics, PROMIS anxiety, PROMIS depression and the six-item US Department of Agriculture Household Food Security Survey Module. All variables were reported according to the four levels of food security status (high (H), marginal (M), low (L) and very low (VL)). Chi-squared tests were used to compare all categorical variables including demographic, mental health and food security status. A multivariable regression was conducted between food security status and mental health variables. Overall, n = 1315 students were included in the analysis. Of which, 5% were classified as having VL food security, 13% L, 14% M and 68% H. As food security worsened the likelihood of being unemployed looking for work, living alone and deteriorating physical health, diet quality and mental health increased. As food security status deteriorated the prevalence of needing to ask family or friends for food, shopping at multiple outlets for discounts, accessing emergency food relief, subsidised meals and financial assistance from organisations increased (p < 0.002). In regression models adjusting for covariates, depression (b (95%CI): VL = 7.2(4.1–10.3), L = 3.7(1.7–5.7), M = 2.0(0.1–3.8)) and anxiety (VL = 7.4(4.5–10.4), L = 3.5(1.5–5.4) and M = 2.0(0.3–3.8)) were positively associated with worsening food security. Food insecurity during COVID-19 was associated with worsening mental health. This paper provides targets for future university-led initiatives to promote student food security and supporting better access to physical and mental health services.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalHealth and Social Care in the Community
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • college students
  • COVID-19
  • food insecurity
  • food security
  • mental health
  • university students

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