Sociodemographic Correlates of Food Insecurity in Students Attending a Private University: A Cross-Sectional, Descriptive Study

Lankford et al. / Cureus / September 2022

Faculty Conversation

Food insecurity is thought to be a prevalent yet misunderstood problem among college/university students. There is limited evidence regarding the prevalence of food insecurity in this population, and even less among private institutions of higher education. Food insecurity in college/university students can have harmful effects on students’ academic performance and health. The aim of this study was thus to examine food security among college/university students and assess variables which may be associated with it. Cross-sectional data were collected during October-November 2021 from undergraduate, graduate, and professional students at a large private university in Florida, United States using an anonymous, self-administered online questionnaire that included the Validate U.S. Department of Agriculture Household Food Security Six-item index and select sociodemographic variables. Point-biserial correlation coefficient analysis was conducted to identify correlations between the scores on the U.S. Household Food Security Six-item Index and sociodemographic variables. Data were analyzed using SPSS v.27 (IBM Corp., Armonk, NY). Among the 1,316 students who completed the questionnaire, 34% (n=447) reported being “food insecure” (scores between 2 and 6), with higher scores indicating more low food security. In addition, there was a weak but statistically significant correlation between identifying as a first-generation college/university student and greater food insecurity. Conversely, current employment and receiving financial aid from family were both weakly, yet statistically significantly correlated with less food insecurity. Results from this study may help raise awareness regarding university students at risk for low food security and understand certain socioeconomic variables associated with high levels of food insecurity. More research may be needed to help direct focused intervention efforts such as food assistance programs and on-campus food pantries to ameliorate food insecurity in college/university students.