Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Tolar-Peterson, Terezie

Committee Member

Evans, Marion W.

Committee Member

Gardner, Antonio J.

Committee Member

Wei, Tianlan

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms

Visible to MSU only for 1 year

Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion


Food insecurity has emerged as a leading health care problem in the United States, impacting college students’ health, well-being, and academic performance. The aims of this study are: 1) to assess the prevalence of food insecurity at Mississippi State University, 2) to explore the coping mechanisms employed by students faced with food insecurity, and 3) to identify college students' perceptions about food access resources, 4) to identify ways in which a scenario that requires social distancing impacts food security in a college student population, and 5) to explore students' expressed needs from the university in improving food security status for all, whether they are learning on campus or in a distance environment. A mixed methods approach was used to assess the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the study aims. An online survey to gather demographic information and assess food security status using the 6-item version of the U.S. Household Food Security Scale Module (HFSSM) was administered. Next, qualitative focus groups with subsets of participants was conducted to gain further insight into the perceptions, coping mechanisms, and resource utilization issues related to food insecurity. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on focus group data collection, an open-ended qualitative questionnaire was designed and sent to original survey participants to gather further data. This study found 34.1% of undergraduate college students to be food insecure. The strongest predictors of food insecurity were having received some type of food assistance in the past year and having received free- or reduced-lunches in elementary or secondary school. The data demonstrates that students with a meal plan are less likely to be food insecure. Qualitative data identified key influencers of food insecurity: 1) personal beliefs, 2) life skills, and 3) the university. The results of this study contribute to the literature focused on food insecurity prevalence in college students and help to fill in gaps in understanding food insecurity from the university student perspective. This will allow relevant interventions to be developed that are congruent with students’ needs, enhancing resource utilization to increase food security status among college students.