Food Insecurity Is Related to Financial Aid Debt among College Students

By Knol, Linda L.; Robb, Cliff A. et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Food Insecurity Is Related to Financial Aid Debt among College Students


Knol, Linda L., Robb, Cliff A., McKinley, Erin M., Wood, Mary, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Food insecurity, or the "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in acceptable ways" (Anderson, 1990, p. 1596), can be viewed along a continuum of severity. Experts typically designate households or individuals in one of four food security categories:

* High food security (no problems acquiring food)

* Marginal food security (anxiety regarding available resources to purchase food without changes in food quality or quantity)

* Low food security (reduced quality, variety, or desirability of food choices)

* Very low food security (disrupted eating patterns and reduced dietary intake)

(Economic Research Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture, 2017).

Individuals or households that fall into the latter two categories are considered food insecure.

Family and consumer sciences (FCS) professionals take an integrative approach to exploring outcomes for households and individuals, incorporating critical interpersonal relationships and environmental aspects. From a body of knowledge perspective, food is a basic human need that is a critical factor in understanding family and consumer well-being (Nickols et al., 2009). In 2016, 12.3% of American households were food insecure (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory, & Singh, 2017). Food insecurity increases the risk of poor dietary intake, depression, suicide ideation, poor academic performance, and chronic health conditions (Holben, 2010). Recent research suggests that the percentage of college students who are food insecure is higher than the national average (Breuning, Brennhofer, van Woerden, Todd, & Laska, 2016; Chaparro, Zaghloul, Holck, & Dobbs, 2009; Gaines, Robb, Knol, & Sickler, 2014; Hughes, Serebryanikova, Donaldson, & Leveritt, 2011; Morris, Smith, Davis, & Null, 2016; Patton-López, López-Cevallos, Cancel-Tirado, & Vasquez, 2014).

Food insecurity is related to income in the general population (Coleman-Jensen et al., 2017; Holben, 2010). However, this may not be the case for students. Student income is difficult to define and may include multiple sources outside of employment income such as parental support, financial aid, other loans, credit card debt, and receipt of food assistance from federal and local programs. Student loans provide students a means of supplementing their current income by accruing debt. For this reason, it is difficult to understand the relationship between financial aid debt and food insecurity among college students. In other words, are students with the most debt at the greatest risk? Or do these loans help reduce food insecurity by allowing students to eat now and pay later?

Gaines et al. (2014) proposed a student-specific model that suggests that food insecurity may result from limited financial resources to purchase food, poor budgeting skills, and underdeveloped food procurement and production skills. In this model, financial resources to procure food include income from multiple sources including family support, employment, participation in federal food assistance programs, and reliance on debt accumulation through loans and credit cards. This model also includes economic shocks that result in loss of personal or family income, which may temporarily reduce financial resources to procure food, resulting in increased risk for food insecurity. Demographic factors such as gender, race/ethnicity, and number of household members, are also relevant to the model.

To date, there are many inconsistencies in results linking financial indicators with food insecurity among college students. For example, the relationship of food insecurity and receipt of student loans, use of credit cards, and employment has yielded inconsistent results (Gaines et al., 2014; Hughes et alv 2011; Morris et al., 2016; Patton-Lopez et al., 2014). In addition, multiple studies have found that students who live off campus without parents or guardians are at greater risk for food insecurity than those who live in campus housing or at home with parents (Chaparro et al. …

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