Food security among medical students at a Midwest University
Background: Food insecurity is a household condition of limited access to a nutritious food supply that has many negative effects— including poorer physical and mental health outcomes and academic performance. The estimated prevalence of food insecurity in the United States (US) general population is 10.5%, with higher rates reported in undergraduate and graduate students. However, estimates for food insecurity among medical students are lacking.
Methods: For this cross-sectional study, we sent an anonymous online survey with multiple email reminders to all medical students (N=500) at a Midwestern medical institution between March and May 2021. Survey items included demographics, parent/guardian educational attainment, academic performance, and mental health status. Food insecurity in the past 30 days was assessed using the US Household Food Security Survey Module. We weighted responses by race/ethnicity of the known student population.
Results: We received surveys from 75 respondents (17.0% response rate). After weighting was applied, an estimated 26.8% of medical students experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. Reported worry about food supply was highest during breaks in student loan dispersal (80.6%). Respondents with poor mental health were more likely to report food insecurity compared to those reporting average to excellent mental health (p < .001).
Conclusions: The medical student food insecurity rate observed in this study exceeds the national average and is consistent with rates found in other undergraduate and graduate non-medical student populations. More studies are needed on risk factors for food insecurity in order to identify and respond to unmet food needs and its potential mental health consequences.
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