A quantitative study on the attitudes, knowledge and experiences of university students on the consumption of processed foods during the Covid-19 lockdown

  • Daniel McElhinney
Keywords: processed foods, university students, attitudes, knowledge, experiences, COVID-19, coronavirus, lockdown, restrictions, eating habits, lifestyle, non-communicable diseases (NCDs)


The exponential growth of COVID-19 cases has forced governments to impose lockdowns with restrictions concerning all aspects of human life. COVID-19 may compromise maintaining a healthy and varied diet when university students are already known to participate in risky eating behaviours, such as the increased consumption of high energy and processed foods. The pandemic-related lockdown is identified as a stressful event for humanity. As a result, the pandemic has strongly impacted everyone's daily life, creating anxiety, fear, and panic. These stressful situations alter eating habits and increase the risk of overweight and obesity. The research aims to explore and assess the consumption of processed foods during the COVID-19 lockdown in university students studying within the UK. The research seeks to answer the research objectives and the principle research question; “How has the COVID-19 lockdown (2020) impacted the way university students consume processed foods?” This empirical research study used a quantitative approach to investigate university students' attitudes, knowledge, and experiences on consuming processed foods during COVID-19 lockdown. The data collection method used was an online survey which was distributed through UK university Facebook pages. The questions which comprised the online survey orientated around, 1) The consumption of processed foods, 2) Knowledge, attitudes and experiences of the consumption of processed foods during the COVID-19 lockdown. The survey was conducted from 19th November 2020 to 30th March 2021. A total of 56 respondents have been included in the study, including both women (n=45; 80.4%) and men (n=11; 19.6%). The researcher used self-selection sampling, as the study specifically focused on university students. The researcher's sampling method proved successful as the target number of responses for the online survey was 50 participants. The results show that most university students agree that processed food is less healthy than fresh food. However, the most significant barrier university students faced to eating less processed foods is the cost of fresh food. The results show that during the COVID-19 national lockdown there was a decrease in processed food consumption and an increase in homemade meals, as university students were more aware of what they were eating during this time. The researcher recommends that the UK government and policymakers promote unprocessed or minimally processed foods to reduce the risk of chronic non-communicable diseases associated with processed food within both university students and the wider public. As COVID-19 is new and current, further research is needed to better understand how the current pandemic has impacted how university students consume processed foods during the lockdown.