Closing the Gap on Interventions and Strategies to Address College Student Food Insecurity
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management
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Food insecurity is a condition of limited or inconsistent access to adequate food for a healthy, active lifestyle. Approximately 32 percent of college students experience food insecurity compared to 10.5 percent of households in the general population. Food insecurity negatively impacts physical and mental health, nutritional status, academic success, retention rates, and social well-being. It is important that college students experiencing food insecurity are supported during their academic pursuits by interventions and strategies that provide food aid and improve food access. The purpose of this dissertation was to (1) describe characteristics and outcomes of previous and current campus-based interventions and strategies that address college student food insecurity; 2) describe a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach to address college student food insecurity; 3) assess and explore engagement and collaborative efforts of campus coalitions at two-year colleges; and 4) describe differences in engagement and collaborative efforts between two-and four-year campus coalitions. A systematic review of interventions and strategies that addressed college student food insecurity demonstrated interventions and strategies with multiple components (e.g. offering nutrition education with free food) improved nutrient intake and successfully enrolled hundreds of college students in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Enrolling students in public assistance programs like SNAP, offering nutrition education, and providing recipes with food may offer long-term benefits and support as students can utilize these resources when campus-based food aid is not available, such as weekends and breaks. However, additional systematic interventions and strategies are needed to address the problem that food insecurity poses to the college student population. To systematically address college student food insecurity, Hunger Free Higher Ed (HFHE) was developed. It includes a six-step approach adapted from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) to improve college student food insecurity by utilizing principles of Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) (SAMHSA, 2019). HFHE collaborates with campuses by offering technical assistance in food security innovations, strategic planning, assessment, and evaluation; supporting food aid infrastructure; and promoting implementation of evidence-based initiatives. HFHE implemented the approach at 29 colleges and universities in Alabama. This research described each of the six steps and introduced the future of the approach through an innovative, electronic platform with the potential for national reach. In 2021, two-year colleges in Alabama initiated the HFHE approach by joining the Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs (ACCBN), a state network of campus coalitions with a mission of reducing college student food insecurity in Alabama. During the first step, campus coalition leaders (also known as campus champions) formed a coalition by engaging members of their campus and community to unite resources that improve student food security. Researchers assessed and explored these engagement and collaborative efforts through an explanatory, sequential mixed methods study. Campus champions completed a survey and semi-structured interview. Two inductive themes emerged from the results of the survey and interview: (1) champions noted feelings of being spread thin due to understaffing of employees and the impact of COVID-19; and (2) champions demonstrated intentionality in how they planned to engage members and develop a sustainable coalition. These results described challenges with community-capacity building and coalition maintenance at two-year college campuses. Colleges and universities throughout Alabama have joined ACCBN and are matriculating through the HFHE approach in collaboration with HFHE leaders. Campus champions from four-year universities and two-year colleges participated in the ENGAGE assessment in 2019 and 2022, respectively. We compared and described differences in the survey and interview responses provided by two- and four-year campus champions. Results of this study demonstrated Campus champions from four-year universities rated their skills in writing proposals and obtaining resources significantly higher than two-year campus champions (2 = 9.849, p < .05). Campus champions from two-year colleges rated the incorporation of coalition activities within other agencies or institutions was absent at a significantly more frequent rate than four-year campus champions ( 2 = 6.667, p < .05). In addition, two- and four-year campus champions differed in their responses to interview questions concerning areas in which their coalition excelled, encountered challenges, or required improvement.