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Food insecurity is a prevalent problem in the United States (Feeding America, 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated existing health disparities including access to the food resources necessary for a healthy lifestyle (Feeding America, 2021). The impact of food insecurity on health, well-being, and quality of life is well-documented Schmelzer & Leto, 2018; Seligman et al., 2010 Emerging adults and college students may experience food insecurity due to limited access to nutrition assistance programming and low food literacy (El Zein, et al., 2019; Owens, et al, 2020). Occupational therapy (OT) practitioners can serve an important role in reducing food insecurity by addressing barriers and supporting participation in food-related occupations (Juckett & Robinson 2019; Schmeltzer & Leto, 2018). OT practitioners can also improve food literacy through skill acquisition, as well as lifestyle or environmental modifications

The purpose of this project was to conduct a needs assessment in order to design programming that will promote lasting food security and occupational engagement among emerging adults and college students of all ages.

This project included three components: a research study, a needs assessment, and program development. The mixed-methods research study was designed to answer how does food insecurity impact occupational engagement/performance? The study involved a survey (n=5) and semi-structured interview (n=1) with five students from a rural community college in California. The needs assessment (n=14) explored areas of need for basic needs programming to support college students experiencing food insecurity. The findings indicated that to reduce food insecurity in college, future programming should address 1) financial literacy, 2) food literacy and nutrition, 3) CalFresh and food resource barriers, and 4) system or external barriers. The need to support food literacy was a common connection between the literature, the research study, and the needs assessment. The study and needs assessment informed the development of an online resource for college students and college professionals to access in order to reduce food insecurity among college students.

This project adds to the literature on the role of OT for food security and identifies a need for OT practitioners to be more involved in health promotion and prevention services. Future research should explore the role of OT for food security with emerging adults and college students at various institutions.

Publication Date



University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences

Medical Subject Headings

COVID-19, Food Insecurity, Healthy Lifestyle, Rural Population, Students, Occupational Therapy, Needs Assessment, Program Development


Occupational Therapy | Public Health | Social Work


Poster presented at the Spring 2021 Virtual OTD Capstone Symposium at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences on April 15, 2021.

Occupational Approaches for Reducing Food Insecurity in College Students