Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Kinesiology and Health Promotion

First Advisor

Dr. Melinda Ickes


Research indicates food insecurity (FI) has become a consistent challenge for college students. However, more is needed regarding the students' lived experiences of food insecurity following the COVID-19 pandemic. Universities play a vital role in assisting students with food insecurity through food assistance programs, on-campus resources, and financial help, which impacts their physiological needs and academic performance. A better understanding of what influences students' perceptions and decisions about whether to engage in these resources is essential.

This dissertation's purpose was to explore how college students living with food insecurity experience engaging in food assistance programs (FAP). The study used a two-phased mixed methods approach. The initial phase investigated why college students experiencing food insecurity develop food assistance hesitancy towards food assistance programs utilizing the Health Belief Model (HBM) following the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the model, the HBM was used to assess the food assistance hesitancy affecting a student's decision to visit food assistance programs on campus. This model included perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, perceived benefits, perceived barriers, cues to action, and self-efficacy. The second study aimed to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on a college student experiencing food insecurity and their perceptions of FI and FAPs following the pandemic.

The first study used a cross-sectional design and an online survey to gather information from a convenience sample of college students attending a large southeastern university (N=153). The survey utilized the HBM to assess the perception of each student and the student's food assistance hesitancy towards food assistance programs. The mean age was 20.19 (SD= 2.34) years. Nearly half of participating students (N=75, 46%) identified as FI, denoting that working more hours with full-time status were associated with FI status. The majority of the students were female (56%), from in-state (67%) and white (79%). Across all HBM models, perceived barriers and perceived benefits were the only two significant predictors to remain stable across the model progression, respectively. With the stability across models, the most salient predictors of students' food assistance hesitancy towards food assistance programs include perceived benefits and perceived barriers when holding all predictor variables constant.

The second study used a qualitative approach to gather information from students experiencing food insecurity while attending a large public southeastern university following the COVID-19 pandemic (N= 20). The study used qualitative thematic analysis to define and categorize themes through a HBM lens. Within the six constructs, these subthemes emerged: (1) Perceived Susceptibility: understanding of FI for students and perceived vulnerability of FI for students; (2) Perceived Severity: social comparison of FI experience to another student, stigmatization of being FI, physiological effects of restricted food choices and impact of FI on academic performance; (3) Perceived Barriers: awareness of food assistance programs, feeling isolated during academic breaks, stigmatization of seeking help, the financial burden of budgeting for college and food expenses, and impact of job as a college student experiencing food insecurity(4) Perceived Benefits: FAPs (Food Assistance Programs) provide consistency, FAPs provide a safe environment, and FAPs alleviate stress to focus on academics; (5) Cue to Action: advice from professor or staff and understanding my role as a student living with FI; (6) Self-Efficacy: destigmatizing their FI.

Food insecure students' perceived threat of food insecurity varied depending on what they understood FI to be, how it affected them individually, and in comparison, to other food insecure student. The HBM constructs, perceived barriers, and perceived benefits strongly influenced a student's decision to engage in a FAP. Future interventions should aim to increase awareness of FAPs on campus while reducing the emotional, social, and accessibility barriers surrounding FI. In addition, these results should aid in developing programs where a student-centered perception will be at the forefront of the framework to reduce food assistance hesitancy and FI among college students.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion

Research Award Fall 2022