College students face high rates of food insecurity
SALT LAKE CITY – As college students start the fall semester, around 40% of them will face food insecurity compared to the 11% the general public faces. This is according to a study by Brigham Young University.
Co-author Rickelle Richards, BYU professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science said that these students lack access to the quantity, quality and variety of foods that make up a healthy diet.
“For college students in our study, this often manifested as relying on non-perishable foods like ramen noodles, rice and beans when funds were low or when their food supply varied throughout the month or from paycheck to paycheck,” said Richards.
Richards said some factors are the costs of tuition, housing, rising food prices, general expenditures and the lack of transportation to access affordable foods.
“Among college students, research has shown a higher risk of food insecurity among first-generation students, community college students,” said Richards. “Students who are working part-time and/or receive financial assistance, students with a low income, students with children, single parents, students of color, and/or students who rent rather than live at home.”
In addition to relying on nutrient-deficient meals, Richards said food insecurity can also manifest into disordered eating patterns leading to obesity or weight loss.
“They may be more prone to depression and other kinds of psychological distress,” said Richards. “We also see lower academic performance.”
Helping with food insecurity
According to Richards, students have a hard time qualifying for government programs. This includes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or food stamps. Some solutions could be found in visiting the university food pantries, fellow students helping others with transportation to grocery stores and checking in on students who may be struggling.
Some universities have community gardens where students can grow fruits and veggies to take home. Colleges could also allow students to donate extra meal plan funds to others in need, but Richards said it varies on the college.
“Approaches vary widely because it depends on how the administration is structured and how their programs are funded, but some campuses have task forces or coordinators who help advertise resources and connect students with help,” said Richards. “Whatever the approach is, I think it works best if it’s student-driven.”
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