Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

David A. Himmelgreen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lorena Madrigal, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nancy Y. Romero-Daza, Ph.D.

Committee Member

William W. Dressler, Ph.D.


Coping, Food Security, Human Adaptability, Poverty, Stress


In the US over the last few years, approximately 14.5% of households experience food insecurity at some point throughout the year. While studies on food insecurity in the US have determined that household income and specifically income available to spend on food is of critical importance to food security, it is still unclear why some households with low income are able to maintain food security while others experience food insecurity in a pattern characterized as not constant but recurrent. This dissertation compares households with children at different levels of food security and insecurity using the USDA Core Food Security Module (CFSM) and an ethnographically informed analysis of coping in order to understand the differences between at-risk households in order to determine why some fall into more severe food insecurity while other manage to avoid it. Data on food security, demographics, use of food assistance programs, shared cultural models for food, food shopping behavior, food consumption, and measures of depression and anxiety were collected from 207 households. Households at or below 185% of poverty line (n=106) were grouped by food security status--food secure (FS), low food security (LFS), and very low food security (VLFS)--into three groups. The remaining households (n=101) were used as an out-group for comparison. The results revealed that for low income households (below 185% of poverty line) income was not a significant factor for many of the comparisons between FS and LFS or VLFS households. Instead, other variables such as higher stress index score (PSS), younger age of respondent or food procurer, and the presence of a spouse or partner were more important predictors of food insecurity. Households used safety net resources to cope with food insecurity, though as predicted by the literature these resources where used to mitigate food insecurity as opposed to buffer against it. Finally, there were large and significant differences between the three groups in the amount of stress (PSS) and depression (HSCL-10) symptoms measured in the respondents, affirming the relationship between food insecurity and stress that has been documented in the literature. The study concludes by recommending that future research explore the way in which food insecurity and stress affect household relationships because (1) living with a spouse or partner predicted food insecurity in this sample of at-risk low income households and (2) there was some evidence that male food procurers experience more stress than female food procurers.