Food insecurity is a major topic of conversation, especially with the problem growing during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Forbes. With nearly 40% of U.S. college students currently facing food insecurity, many people are learning what this means and how to combat it.
What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity was defined by the nonprofit organization Feeding America as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.”
While some might use “hunger” and “food insecurity” interchangeably, they mean different things. Feeding America reported that “hunger” is the physical response to not eating, while “food insecurity” is not having enough resources financially to obtain food.
BYU nutrition, dietetics and food science professor Rickelle Richards told BYU News that it all comes down to whether or not the person has the resources to keep a regular food supply.
“Someone who is food insecure may budget for food but still not have enough money or other resources to maintain the food supply they need for a healthy diet,” Richards said.
Why are college students more susceptible to food insecurity
The journal Health Affairs reported that there are many factors that contribute to why college students have a higher percentage of food insecurity.
Food insecurity could be a higher trend for college students because of the various demands on their funds while having to pay for school tuition, housing and books. Inflation causing food prices to go up could also be a factor.
Richards explained that college students don’t typically reach the benchmarks for government benefits, and even though COVID-19 has helped students currently have better access to food stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, there’s no telling when the previous restrictions will be put back in place.
How to be sensitive to food insecurity
Eating is typically a social event for people of all ages, but especially for college students. In order to help people feel comfortable, noticing the needs of your peers can go a long way in being sensitive to those struggling with food insecurity.
Some ways to acknowledge this struggle without embarrassment is to survey where your peers may need help and look at what resources you have that you can lend to someone in need.
“If you have a car and know people who don’t, offer to give them a ride to the grocery store. In our study, transportation was one of the biggest challenges for food-insecure students,” Richards said.
How universities can help
Universities can acknowledge and help their students who struggle with food insecurities by planting community gardens where students can take home produce, as well as creating task forces to coordinate assignments on how to distribute food and excess resources.
The American Journal of Nursing reported that AARP, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and The American Academy of Pediatrics have “screening tools and programs” to track people who are food insecure and get them connected to helpful resources.
CBS affiliate WABI reported that Eastern Maine Community College is working to combat food insecurity through having a food pantry and hosting a “Fill the Van” event that helps the community collect food donations.
“Food pantries are probably the most common resource you see on college campuses. Some of the pantries glean from the college campus community itself when there’s extra food on campus,” Richards said.