By Chloe E. Spencer
According to a recent study, the California State University Office of the Chancellor Study of Student Basic Needs, students who reported food insecurity, homelessness or both experienced physical and mental health consequences that were associated with lower academic achievement.
There’s a popular notion that broke college students live off instant ramen and fast food. All the changes and freedoms that come with college result in what we’ve coined “the freshman 15.”
Something we tend to ignore are the conditions that cause students to fall into these habits. Some of these include having limited access to fresh food, not enough time to prepare food, lack of transportation, and inadequate funds to purchase groceries.
These challenges are all working parts that contribute to the greater issue of food insecurity. Instead of looking at the individual college student and why they’re not getting proper nutrition, it’s important to look at this issue in a greater context.
The study found that 41.6% of CSU students reported food insecurity, which is over three times the national household average of 12.3%. This puts college students at a far greater risk of food insecurity than the rest of the population, making them a new food-insecure population of concern.
One Cal State Dominguez Hills student reported, “I would get bananas and I will cut it in half. I’d eat only half in the morning, and then I would wait five hours, then eat the other half, just so I have something in my stomach consistently. … I would struggle to concentrate for sure, because sometimes that’s all I could think about was where was my next meal going to come from.
“At the same time, I would always push myself to just keep going, just keep going, just keep going.”
Yet, this issue doesn’t impact all college students in the same way. Students who identified as Black/African-American and first-generation college students experienced the highest rates of food insecurity, at 65.9%, revealing that this issue is having negative implications on already vulnerable groups of people.
There is also a strong link between food insecurity and educational attainment. Many students experiencing food insecurity, homelessness or both had lower GPAs and higher academic concerns than students who reported being food secure.
On top of academic struggles, food insecurity also impacted students’ mental and physical health. Students faced feelings of anxiety, fear, irritability and depression when their basic needs weren’t met. Oftentimes, physical health issues due to lack of nutrition led to mental health problems and personal concerns.
The Study of Student Basic Needs offered many solutions for this growing issue.
First, to develop affordable food and housing options for students.
Second, to target strategies to address the student populations that reported the highest level of food insecurity.
Next, identify and institute creative campaigns to develop a campus culture of awareness and response to support students who experience significant material hardships.
Lastly, to utilize campus-based CalFresh enrollment and other strategies as a preventive measure for food insecurity.
One of the biggest challenges facing food insecurity among college students is the stigma attached to the issue. Many students feel ashamed and are unaware of the programs that can help them.
It’s crucial to make students aware that they’re not alone in this fight and these challenges aren’t their fault. By making our community more aware of this issue we will be able to help those who are disproportionately affected by this. It’s important to educate the privileged about food insecurity and bring this issue to light.
Every college student deserves the right to have their basic needs met. These students are the next generation of workers and educators and it’s our responsibility as a community to ensure they have the resources and support in accessing healthy and affordable food.
Chloe Spencer is a senior at Cal State San Marcos.