Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Affairs and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Matthew Mingus

Second Advisor

Dr. Jesse Smith

Third Advisor

Dr. Raymond Higbea


Food insecurity, food deserts/accessibiltiy, physical and mental, poverty/affordability, coping strategies, nutrition and health


This study focused on the lived experiences of low-income households who coped with food insecurity and explored their worldview on the health impacts of battling with this phenomenon in the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). While the main research question focused on how low-income households coped with food insecurity, the following were the focus of the research analysis and served as the empirically testable framework: a) addressing the impact of poverty on affordability of nutritious food, b) addressing the impact of food deserts on accessibility and availability of nutritious food, c) addressing the coping strategies used to battle food insecurity phenomenon, and d) addressing the impact of coping strategies used on health outcomes.

Exploring the food insecurity topic, not only was it evident that the research on food insecurity coping mechanisms has been insufficient in the United States, but the existing research has been predominantly quantitative in nature. By implementing a transcendental phenomenology as its primary design, this study elucidated human experience of hunger and of coping mechanisms to lend to the possibility of advising public policies that resonate out of a more humanistic perspective rather than with just statistics alone.

This study implemented a stratified random sampling to interview 50 participants who used food pantries in Grand Rapids MSA. The results revealed that the participants were struggling with food insecurity due to the: a) inaccessibility of nutritious food, b) lack of availability of nutritious food, and c) unaffordability of nutritious food. The levels of food insecurity were significantly higher for the Grand Rapids MSA households compared to the USDA national averages. The top five coping strategies showed that the participants depended on formal and informal networks to address their nutritional needs: a) food pantries/churches, b) selecting cheap foods, c) meal planning, d) friends and family, and e) the SNAP benefits (food stamps). The food insecurity phenomenon and coping strategies had a substantial impact on the participants’ mental health outcomes (stress, anxiety, depression) versus their physical health outcomes (being overweight, high blood pressure, diabetes).

In conclusion, this study recommends that the public administrators and practitioners should revise the “one size fits all” approach in nutrition-related policies, strive to improve the intergovernmental coalitions to circulate the public assistance information, focus on ameliorating the effectiveness of formal and informal networks as a coping strategy, and work towards alleviating the physical and mental health outcomes of food insecurity phenomenon through preventative approaches.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access