Food Insecurity on Campus

This article is the first in a series on food insecurity. Kris Lensmeyer, Chief Operating Officer of Fresh Ideas, examines the meaning of food insecurity, identifies common misconceptions about the condition on college campuses, and why it’s important to talk about food insecurity.

What is food insecurity? Food insecurity refers to United States Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. In the simplest of terms, food insecurity is not knowing where you will get your next meal.

There is an assumption of plentiful food availability and lack of hunger on college campuses. After all, shouldn’t a student be able to afford food or a meal plan if they’re able to afford tuition, books, and other fees? The reality is that with the higher costs of higher education, money is tight for many students, regardless of scholarships and financial aid.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there has been a 40% increase in the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses since 2001. Students must pay their bills and tuition before they can buy food. Food is not at the top of the priority list when there are more expensive and essential things that need to be paid to maintain a place of residence and education.

Food insecurity is incredibly common due to the escalating costs of education. 48% of college student surveys said they faced food insecurity in the last 30 days according to a study released by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness. Furthermore, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior states two out of three college students do not have regular access to food.

The effects of food insecurity are considerable as skipping meals can have many effects on a person both physically and emotionally. Not knowing when you will eat again is not only unhealthy physically because your body lacks the nutrients it requires, but also mentally, as extra stress is detrimental to basic health. The National Center on Health reports malnutrition is the second leading cause of mental health in the college population.

Students in college should focus on getting a quality education, not wondering where their next meal will come from while studying for their upcoming exam. Dialogue and education are the first steps to understanding food insecurity on campus, and we are dedicated to being a part of that ongoing conversation.