Barriers to Accessing Healthy Food and Food Assistance During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Racial Justice Uprisings: A Mixed-Methods Investigation of Emerging Adults’ Experiences

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17 Scopus citations


Background: A steep rise in food insecurity is among the most pressing US public health problems that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Objective: This study aimed to (1) describe how food-insecure emerging adults are adapting their eating and child-feeding behaviors during COVID-19 and (2) identify barriers and opportunities to improve local food access and access to food assistance. Design: The COVID-19 Eating and Activity Over Time study collected survey data from emerging adults during April to October 2020 and completed interviews with a diverse subset of food-insecure respondents. Participants/setting: A total of 720 emerging adults (mean age: 24.7 ± 2.0 years; 62% female; 90% living in Minnesota) completed an online survey, and a predominately female subsample (n = 33) completed an interview by telephone or videoconference. Main outcome measures: Survey measures included the short-form of the US Household Food Security Survey Module and 2 items to assess food insufficiency. Interviews assessed eating and feeding behaviors along with barriers to healthy food access. Analyses performed: Descriptive statistics and a hybrid deductive and inductive content analysis. Results: Nearly one-third of survey respondents had experienced food insecurity in the past year. Interviews with food-insecure participants identified 6 themes with regard to changes in eating and feeding behavior (eg, more processed food, sporadic eating), 5 themes regarding local food access barriers (eg, limited enforcement of COVID-19 safety practices, experiencing discrimination), and 4 themes regarding barriers to accessing food assistance (eg, lack of eligibility, difficulty in locating pantries). Identified recommendations include (1) expanding the distribution of information about food pantries and meal distribution sites, and (2) increasing fresh fruit and vegetable offerings at these sites. Conclusions: Interventions of specific relevance to COVID-19 (eg, stronger implementation of safety practices) and expanded food assistance services are needed to improve the accessibility of healthy food for emerging adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1679-1694
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
FUNDING/SUPPORT This work was supported by Grant Number R35HL139853 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (principal investigator: Neumark-Sztainer). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute or the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics


  • Eating behavior
  • Emerging adults
  • Food access
  • Food assistance
  • Food insecurity


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