Mapping the Food Environment and Collecting Student Experiences to Support Food Security and Healthy Eating Among University Students
Young people may be susceptible to consuming unhealthy foods or skipping meals due to low availability and accessibility of healthy, fresh, and culturally appropriate foods on university campuses. University food environments are complex and highly influential in shaping students’ dietary behaviours and experiences with food security. In the recent COVID-19 context, experiences with food insecurity may be alternated therefore, this research adds insight into measures and reported experiences of young people within Australia. This thesis is comprised of three studies, a narrative literature review of tools used to assess educational food environments, an audit of the Macquarie University food environment, and qualitative focus groups and interviews with students to capture their experiences with healthy eating and food insecurity on campus. This research aims to build on existing evidence of food environment assessments, whilst providing a multi-faceted and comprehensive approach to understand student experiences of food security and healthy eating. Findings from the review highlights that food environments should be assessed comprehensively whilst including student perceptions, due to the complexities and influential nature of these environments. The university food environment audit encompassed these recommendations as governance, environment and retail elements were assessed, the findings revealed the need for further governance and leadership of the university food environment. The qualitative component of this thesis built upon these findings in the primary and secondary studies as students were consulted and asked to discuss their views on barriers and facilitators to accessing healthy foods on campus, as well as future intervention ideas. The findings revealed that the main barriers were related to availability, pricing, and knowledge of healthy foods. Future intervention ideas included education, free fruits and food relief, discounts, self-catering facilities, and healthy food outlets. The combined findings of this thesis highlighted the need to comprehensively measure the food environment and consult with students to identify the key influences and ideas for improving healthy eating and food security. Additionally, the university should consider implementing governance measures related to healthy eating and conduct further student consultations.