Food insecurity among college students differs by questionnaire modality: An exploratory study

Cassandra J. Nikolaus, Brenna Ellison, Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Literature suggests that college (ie, post-secondary) students experience food insecurity (FI) at alarming rates. However, the commonly used FI questionnaires have undergone limited evaluations for accuracy in this sub-population. The objective of this exploratory study was to evaluate if FI estimates among college students differ by survey distribution modality. Methods: A test-retest study was conducted from October to December 2017. A random sample of undergraduate students (N = 343) participated in an online survey. After completing the survey, a random sample of these students (N = 66; 29%) completed the same items in paper-and-pencil format. Responses were compared with percent agreement and kappa (κ) coefficients. Results: Students were less likely to affirm each item on paper-and-pencil questionnaires. Percent agreement ranged from 71.2% to 96.9% across items, and κ coefficients ranged from poor to fair. FI prevalence differed by 15% between online and paper-and-pencil assessments (40.9% and 25.8%, respectively). Percent agreement for FI categorization was 75.8% and κ=0.47. Conclusions: Differing survey modalities resulted in varying FI classifications in a sample of undergraduate students. Though limited by size and representativeness, this supports the need for further testing of FI surveys, as accurate FI estimates are essential to serving college students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-89
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of health behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020


  • Food security
  • Hunger
  • University students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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