Previous studies have found that the prevalence of food insecurity (FI) in graduate students is lower than in undergraduates. However, few studies have examined FI prevalence or correlates at the master's and doctoral levels separately.
To compare the prevalence and correlates of FI among undergraduate, master's and doctoral students.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
All matriculated students at a large public northeastern university were invited to complete a cross-sectional online survey in 2019, resulting in a sample of 5,017 undergraduate (85.3%), 581 master's (9.9%), and 282 doctoral students (4.8%).
Food insecurity status over the past 30 days was measured using the USDA 18-item Food Security Survey Module. Additional data were drawn from institutional databases (degree level, age, sex, race/ethnicity, first-generation student) and survey questions (loans, financial aid, LGBTQ+). Frequencies and multivariate logistic regressions were conducted separately by degree level.
Food insecurity rates were highest for master's (32.2%) and undergraduate (31.4%) compared with doctoral students (21.6%). For undergraduates, FI risk factors included being older (OR = 1.08 [95% CI 1.05 – 1.10]), Black (OR= 1.94 [95% CI [1.40 – 2.67]), Hispanic (OR = 1.36, [95% CI 1.08 – 1.71]), international (OR = 1.89 [95% CI 1.40 – 2.73]), LGBTQ+ (OR= 1.40 [95% CI 1.15 – 1.68]), first-generation college student (OR=1.52, [95% CI 1.30 – 1.79]) and having loans (OR=1.72 [95% CI [1.48 – 2.01]). Among master's students, being Black (OR = 3.20 [95% CI 1.68 – 6.08]) and having loans (OR=2.46 [95% CI 1.61 – 3.76]) increased FI risk, while being older decreased FI risk (OR=0.96 [95% CI 0.93 – 0.99]). For doctoral students, risk factors included loans (OR=3.40 [95% CI 1.17 – 9.87]) and being a first-generation college student (OR=2.9 [95% CI 1.55 – 5.47]).
Food insecurity prevalence and risk factors vary by degree level, with doctoral students having the lowest prevalence and fewest correlates. The effectiveness of FI interventions, such as campus pantries, can be improved if they are targeted by degree level and corresponding risk factors.