City Research Online

Food Insecurity and Lived Experience of Students (FILES)

Defeyter, G., Stretesky, P., Long, M. , Furey, S., Reynolds, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-1073-7394, Dodds, A., Porteous, D., Mann, E.J., Stretesky, C., Kemp, A., Fox, J. & McAnallen, A. (2020). Food Insecurity and Lived Experience of Students (FILES). London, UK: Parliament.


This paper provides evidence of the impact of Covid-19 on higher education students’ levels of food security and lived experiences. We surveyed higher education students, attending three universities in the UK and one in the USA, from 1st April to 30th April 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic and after universities closed the majority of their buildings and ceased campus-based teaching. A total of 1,234 surveys were returned. The preliminary findings show that nearly 35% of students surveyed reported low or very low levels of food security and 41% of students were worried that their food would run out. We also found high levels of poor mental health and well-being; and mental health was associated with level of food security. The best predictor of the level of food security was students’ living arrangements during the Covid-19 pandemic. Students who were living on their own or with other students were more likely to experience low or very low levels of food insecurity compared to those students living with family members. The financial data collected show that many students relied on employment as their main source of income, and students are very worried about their current financial security. Furthermore, we found a relatively high reliance on ultra-processed foods as the main food type in students’ diets. The data from open-ended questions lend further support to the quantitative findings reported and provide further insight into students’ lived experiences. Finally, this paper concludes with key recommendations for policy makers, universities and student unions. (Submitted to the Education Select Committee Inquiry on The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services, 03 June 2020) FILES is a research collaboration involving a number of academics and student union officers from across England, Northern Ireland and the USA. The group’s key objective is to research food insecurity and lived experiences of students in Higher Education. Food insecurity has been explored in other populations, but no evidence has been presented that examines food insecurity and lived experiences of students in higher education following Covid-19 lockdown. Authors: Professor Greta Defeyter, Professor Paul Stretesky, Dr Mike Long, Dr Sinéad Furey, Dr Christian Reynolds, Dr Alyson Dodds, Dr Debbie Porteous, Dr Emily Mann, Mrs Christine Stretesky, Ms Anna Kemp, Mr James Fox, Mr Andrew McAnallen

Publication Type: Report
Publisher Keywords: food insecurity; Students; diet; ultra-processed food; mental health; cooking
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
T Technology > TX Home economics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
[thumbnail of FILES evidence.pdf]
Text - Submitted Version
Available under License Open Government Licence v3.

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