Nearly one-third of young Minnesotans were food insecure during the pandemic, study finds

A young couple wear masks while grocery shopping.

About one in three young adults living in Minnesota reported problems with having enough food to eat during the pandemic, according to an NHLBI-funded study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Conducted between April-October 2020, the COVID-19 Eating and Activity Over Time study surveyed 720 individuals and the researchers saw a few themes emerge among adults who experienced food insecurity. First, physical barriers – like modified store hours, qualifying for federal food assistance, and finding healthful items in stock – made it challenging for some participants to have enough to eat. Second, a social justice movement in response to the death of George Floyd made others hesitant of in-person shopping due to fear of racial discrimination. Another deterrent was being around patrons who weren’t following COVID-19 safety protocols, such as physical distancing and masking.

A subgroup of 33 survey participants provided additional feedback about their experience. Some drank water instead of other beverages, like juice, to save money. Others swapped healthful items, like fresh fruit, for processed foods to cut costs. Eating more fast food, based on access and convenience, and eating sporadically emerged as additional experiences. Parents also reported eating less to ensure that their young children would have enough food to eat.

The survey also identified solutions to address these barriers. Traditional mailers and community fliers could complement social media messages with updates about local grocery store hours or direct people to food pantries with extended benefits. Examples include food pantries with later hours, that provide food boxes to go, and that have produce in stock. Implementing stronger safety protocols at stores and expanding food assistance were noted as other potential solutions.