Food Insecurity among College Students in the United States: A Scoping Review

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

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Reports of college students experiencing food insecurity (FI), defined as inadequate access, availability, adequacy, and stability of food, have sparked national calls for alleviation and prevention policies. However, there are a wide variety of FI rates reported across studies and even among recent literature reviews. The current scoping review aimed to develop a weighted estimated prevalence of FI among US students using a comprehensive search approach. In addition, study characteristics that may be related to the high variability in reported FI prevalence were explored. To address these aims, the peer-reviewed and gray literature on US college student FI was systematically searched to identify 12,044 nonduplicated records. A total of 51 study samples, across 62 records, met inclusion criteria and were included in the current review. The quality of the included studies was moderate, with an average rate of 6.4 on a scale of 0-10. Convenience (45%) and census (30%) sampling approaches were common; only 4 study samples were based on representative sampling strategies. FI estimates ranged from 10% to 75%. It was common for very low security to be as prevalent as, or more prevalent than, low food security. The surveying protocols used in the studies were related to the FI estimates. The USDA Short Form Food Security Survey Module (FSSM; 50%) and the USDA Adult FSSM (40%) prevalence estimates were larger than for the full USDA Household FSSM (13%). When these surveys referenced a 12-mo period, FI estimates were 31%. This was a lower FI estimate than surveys using reference periods of 9 mo or shorter (47%). The results indicate that FI is a pressing issue among college students, but the variation in prevalence produced by differing surveys suggests that students may be misclassified with current surveying methods. Psychometric testing of these surveys when used with college students is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-348
Number of pages22
JournalAdvances in Nutrition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • college students
  • food insecurity
  • food security
  • hunger
  • systematic review
  • university students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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