Urban Youth Perspectives on Food Insecurity during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from the COACHES Study

Document Type

Journal Article

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COVID-19; Dietary quality; Food insecurity; Youth food perspectives


School disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic were a likely threat to food security and exacerbated risk factors associated with poor nutrition and health outcomes among low-income youth. As part of an ongoing school-based study aimed at improving physical activity and dietary behaviors (the COACHES study), associations between youth-reported food insecurity and dietary intake across the pandemic-affected academic year of 2020–2021 were examined. Middle school students (6th and 7th grade, 94% Black/African-American, 92% free-/reduced-price lunch eligible) answered validated surveys on food insecurity and diet and were measured for height and weight for calculation of weight status during Fall 2020 (n = 88) and Spring 2021 (n = 56). During this time, schools underwent a combination of in-person, hybrid, and remote learning. Nearly half of participants were overweight or obese (47%), and self-reported food insecurity was near 30% at both time points. Less than one-third of youth met fruit and vegetable intake guidelines, and more than half drank two or more sugar-sweetened beverages daily. While controlling for sex, maternal education, and weight status, food insecurity was not significantly associated with fruit and vegetable or sugar-sweetened beverage intake. Independent of weight status, youth were aware of being food insecure, yet it did not have an apparent impact on these food groups of concern. These findings highlight the need for greater understanding of youth perceptions of food insecurity in order to adequately address dietary quality and quantity concerns among children.