New University of Minnesota research shows nearly 1 in 4 young people experience food insecurity

The University of Minnesota School of Public Health’s new study found that nearly one in four people making the transition from adolescence to adulthood lacked enough food to eat.

Researchers said the extent and severity of food security has likely increased in the United States since the study was completed before the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study used data that surveyed 1,568 people as adolescents in 2009-2010 and again as adults in 2017-2018. Participants were recruited from 20 urban schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Responses indicated food insecurity when survey takers said they ate less than they thought they should or did not eat when hungry due to lack of money to buy food.

The study also found that:

  • Food insecurity was linked to poorer diet quality (e.g., less vegetables and whole grains, more sugar-sweetened drinks and added sugars), lower home availability of healthy foods, skipping breakfast, frequently eating at fast-food restaurants, binge eating, binge drinking and substance use
  • Vulnerable groups that may benefit from targeted food insecurity interventions include emerging adults living with their own child(ren), persons in households receiving public assistance and those who are not presently students but have no postsecondary degree/certificate
  • Several health risk factors (e.g., binge drinking) co-occurred with food insecurity, suggesting that programs addressing emerging adult food insecurity may need to be coordinated with other health service interventions
  • There was no evidence that adolescent food insecurity leads to participating in health risk behaviors in emerging adulthood; however, young people who experience adolescent food insecurity may be more likely to also experience food insecurity in emerging adulthood.

“Our results add to consistent research findings that the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a period of vulnerability for food insecurity,” said study lead Nicole Larson, a nutritional epidemiologist in the School of Public Health, in a news release. “Risky health behaviors might be linked to food insecurity due to the psychological and emotional stresses associated with experiencing disrupted access to adequate food or chronic stresses of living in poverty.”

Larson suggests creating assistance programs, expanding outreach and instituting policies to address existing gaps in preventing food insecurity, as well as developing nutrition programs that teach food skills to emerging adults (ages 18-26).