BACKGROUND: Previous research has reported negative health consequences and poor academic achievement among food insecure college students. It is unknown if food insecure students' experiences qualitatively differ from food secure students.
OBJECTIVE: To qualitatively evaluate food secure and food insecure students' experiences with internal and external factors related to food insecurity.
DESIGN: Trained interviewers conducted in-person qualitative interviews from February-August 2018 to gain insights about food secure and food insecure college students' eating patterns, food environment, financial situation, and ideas for addressing food insecurity on college campuses.
PARTICIPANTS/SETTING: Students from three universities in the Western United States (n=58) who were classified as food secure (n=28) and food insecure (n=30) using the United States Department of Agriculture's six-item Food Security Module participated in this study.
STATISTICAL ANALYSES PERFORMED: Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analyzed using a conventional content analysis. A random sample of transcripts were independently coded to determine interrater reliability. Researchers divided transcripts for final coding and overarching themes were discussed. Descriptive statistics were used.
RESULTS: Both food secure and food insecure students obtained food from similar sources (e.g., grocery stores), had unexpected expenses that led to financial constraints, indicated transportation barriers altered the amount or package size of food purchased, and reported similar knowledge, attitudes, use, and familial history of food assistance. Food insecure students uniquely reported prioritizing rent or other living expenses over food, and when funds were low, reducing food intake, experiencing a variable food supply throughout the month, or using strategies like donating plasma or selling possessions to enhance financial stability.
CONCLUSIONS: This study helps nutrition professionals better understand how college students' experiences with factors related to food insecurity differ by food security status. Future quantitative research is needed to confirm the coping strategies identified among food insecure students in this study.