Research Original Research: Brief| Volume 119, ISSUE 10, P1713-1721.e1, October 2019

“It’s a Feeling That One Is Not Worth Food”: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Psychosocial Experience and Academic Consequences of Food Insecurity Among College Students

Published:December 13, 2018DOI:



      The issue of food insecurity is one of growing concern among institutions of higher learning in the United States. In addition to studies on the prevalence and risk factors, research is needed to better understand the mechanisms by which food insecurity affects students' health and well-being.


      To critically explore the experience of food insecurity among college students and its impact on psychosocial health and academic performance.


      In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with college students to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms by which food insecurity affects their psychosocial health and academic performance.


      Twenty-five undergraduate students from a large public university in California who were recruited from a campus food pantry.


      Students discussed several themes related to the psychosocial effects of food insecurity: the stress of food insecurity interfering with daily life, a fear of disappointing family, resentment of students in more stable food and financial situations, an inability to develop meaningful social relationships, sadness from reflecting on food insecurity, feeling hopeless or undeserving of help, and frustration directed at the academic institution for not providing enough support. Students also discussed how food insecurity affected their academic performance through physical manifestations of hunger and the mental trade-off between focusing on food and focusing on academics.


      These findings contribute to the understanding of what it means to experience food insecurity in higher education and can inform how universities support students’ basic needs.


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      At the time of the study, A. Meza was an undergraduate student School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley.


      E. Altman is an associate clinical research coordinator, Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA; at the time of the study, she was a master's student, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley.


      S. Martinez is an assistant researcher, Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Berkeley, CA.


      C. W. Leung is an assistant professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor; at the time of the study, she was a postdoctoral scholar, Center for Health and Community, University of California, San Francisco.