Food Insecurity Experience: Building Empathy in Future Food and Nutrition Professionals

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Abstract

Objective:

To assess changes in empathy in students completing a food insecurity experience.

Design:

Mixed methods; quantitative data from survey in years 1 and 2; qualitative data extracted from students' workbooks in years 2–5. This study was conducted over 10 weeks annually for 5 years.

Setting:

Northwest US land-grant university.

Participants:

Students enrolled in a community nutrition course who chose to complete the food insecurity exercise. Total included 58 students in quantitative analysis in years 1 and 2 and 119 in qualitative analysis, years 2–5.

Intervention(s):

The intervention was a food insecurity experience in which participants spent no more than $3/d on food for 5 days ($15 total) while striving for a nutritious diet and reflecting on their experience.

Main Outcome Measures:

Empathy scores measured by Likert scales; participant responses and reflections recorded in workbook journals.

Analysis:

Comparison of means across time using paired t tests (P < .05); coding and sorting themes from workbook journals.

Results:

Quantitative findings indicated that both classroom content and experiential exercises were important for enhancing empathy about food insecurity. Empathy scores increased from time I to time II and from time I to time III. Qualitative reflections among participants included terms such as guilt, empathy, compassion, and raised consciousness about food insecurity.

Conclusions and Implications:

Experiential and transformational learning to develop empathy can take place in a 5-day food insecurity experience during a typical university-level community nutrition course. This intervention can be tested for applications in other contexts.

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