Expenditure, Coping, and Academic Behaviors Among Food-Insecure College Students at 10 Higher Education Institutes in the Appalachian and Southeastern Regions

Rebecca L. Hagedorn, West Virginia University
Laura H. McArthur, Appalachian University
Lanae B. Hood, Meredith College
Maureen Berner, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Elizabeth T. Anderson Steeves, University of Tennessee
Carol Connell, University of Southern Mississippi
Elizabeth Wall-Bassett, Western Carolina University
Marsha Spence, University of Tennessee
Oyinlola Toyin Babatunde, East Carolina University
E. Brooke Kelly, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Julia F. Waity, University of North Carolina Wilmington
J. Porter Lillis, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Melissa D. Olfert, West Virginia University


Background: A number of studies have measured college student food insecurity prevalence higher than the national average; however, no multicampus regional study among students at 4-y institutions has been undertaken in the Appalachian and Southeast regions of the United States.

Objectives: The aims of this study were to determine the prevalence of food insecurity among college students in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, and to determine the association between food-insecurity status and money expenditures, coping strategies, and academic performance among a regional sample of college students.

Methods: This regional, cross-sectional, online survey study included 13,642 college students at 10 public universities. Food-insecurity status was measured through the use of the USDA Adult Food Security Survey. The outcomes were associations between food insecurity and behaviors determined with the use of the money expenditure scale (MES), the coping strategy scale (CSS), and the academic progress scale (APS). A forward-selection logistic regression model was used with all variables significant from individual Pearson chi-square and Wilcoxon analyses. The significance criterion α for all tests was 0.05.

Results: The prevalence of food insecurity at the universities ranged from 22.4% to 51.8% with an average prevalence of 30.5% for the full sample. From the forward-selection logistic regression model, MES (OR: 1.47; 95% CI: 1.40, 1.55), CSS (OR: 1.19; 95% CI: 1.18, 1.21), and APS (OR: 0.95; 95% CI: 0.91, 0.99) scores remained significant predictors of food insecurity. Grade point average, academic year, health, race/ethnicity, financial aid, cooking frequency, and health insurance also remained significant predictors of food security status.

Conclusions: Food insecurity prevalence was higher than the national average. Food-insecure college students were more likely to display high money expenditures and exhibit coping behaviors, and to have poor academic performance.