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Food insecurity and related coping strategies among undergraduate students at the Univeristy of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus.

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Background: As a country, South Africa could be viewed as food secure. However, a substantial number of households in the country are food insecure. Education is commonly viewed as an opportunity for improving human and social resources. However, at 15% per annum, the South African university graduation rate is globally one of the lowest. As a significant number of South African students enrolling in tertiary education come from previously disadvantaged households characterised by social and economic adversity, the relationship between the latter and low university throughout rates cannot be overlooked. Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate food insecurity and related coping strategies among undergraduate students enrolled at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus. Design: A cross-sectional descriptive study design was chosen. Setting: Main, life science and commerce campuses of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus were used as setting for the study. Subjects: Subjects included for this study were registered undergraduate students on financial aid and non-recipients of financial aid (N=800). Methods: Data collection was conducted by means of a questionnaire developed for the purpose of the study in addition to a modified version of the HFIAS as well as an adapted version of the Coping Strategy Index. Results: The mean age of the study sample was 20.5± 2.0 years. The gender distribution was 41.1% males and 58.9% females. The mean BMI of the study sample was 24.3(±4.8) kg/m2 with 35.8% of the study sample being overweight and obese. Female students had a higher prevalence of overweight (25.1%) and obesity (19.5%) when compared to males, who had a 16.1% prevalence of overweight and 7.0% obesity rate. Over half (54.3%) of participants were non-recipients of financial aid, while 45.8% students were on financial aid. Of the latter, 72.1% were sponsored by NSFAS. During term, 41.6% students lived at student residence, followed by who 32.5% resided at off campus accommodations and 25.9% living at home. Nearly two thirds (60.0%) of students were trying to find a part time job while studying of which 17.3% found employment. Three quarters (75.9%) received an additional source of income of which, 69.4% were not on financial aid and 30.6% were on financial aid. It was reported that 17.6% of students were assisting their families/friends/partner financially. Of the latter sub-sample, 87.2% were on financial aid. Students’ weekly food expense was R132.96. More than half (57.9%) the students were found being the hungriest at the end of the semester and close to/during exam time and at midday or mid-afternoon, with a higher prevalence of these reports coming from students on financial aid (28.0%). More than four out of ten (43.4%) students reported not having enough money for food of which, 55.0% were on financial aid. It was reported that 77.0% of the students were not able to eat a variety of food due to the lack of financial resources with 54.2% of students reporting this shortage occurring at every month end. As far as students who resided in student residence were concerned, 73.0% had their food stolen. The most frequently consumed foods included starchy food (bread, rice, maize-meal, samp, potato and pasta), fats (cooking oil, margarine and mayonnaise), tea, coffee, breakfast cereals and porridge, chicken, eggs and salty snacks. The frequency of consuming fruit was higher than that of vegetables, despite the consumption of both fruits and vegetables being low. More than seven out of ten (72.4%) students were facing food insecurity. While those on financial aid were more likely to be food insecure when compared to non-recipients of financial aid, 77.6% of the study sample limited the variety of their food consumed. The three most severe conditions of food insecurity (running out of food, going to bed hungry because there is no food and, going the whole day and night without food), were experienced by 12.5% of the students. In order to cope with food insecurity and lack of food, the three most frequently used coping strategies were borrowing money (66.5%), borrowing food (34.5%) and selling assets (19.3%). Significantly more students on financial aid adopted coping strategies when compared to those who were not on financial aid. Conclusion: Overweight and obesity was more prevalent among food insecure females than males. There was a lack of dietary diversity among the study sample; especially students on financial aid who faced a high prevalence of food insecurity. Food insecurity and the concomitant coping strategies adopted by students affect their physical and emotional well-being and this may hinder their academic performance. Hence, sustainable remedial measures should be implemented to address food security among undergraduate students registered for study at the Pietermaritzburg campus of University of KwaZulu-Natal.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.