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Half of U.S. college students struggle with food insecurity, study shows

Claire McNeill, Times Staff Writer | Wednesday, October 5, 2016

For nearly half of the country’s college students, food insecurity is a real worry.

That’s according to a new report that surveyed almost 3,800 college students in 12 states — the broadest such study to date, its authors say. Another alarming finding: 22 percent of students qualified as “hungry,” meeting the lowest levels of food security.

“This report finds that hunger is a reality for far too many college students,” author James Dubick said in a statement. “Food insecurity is potentially undermining the educational success of countless thousands of students.”

Food insecurity, defined by the federal Department of Agriculture, means a student isn’t eating enough food, or is eating only non-nutritious food because he or she can’t afford three daily meals.

The problem is worse for students of color, the study showed. Of black students, 57 percent reported food insecurity, compared to 40 percent of white students. First-generation students also had high levels of food insecurity, at 56 percent.

Having a mean plan on campus didn’t always help. Neither did having a paying job, or federal financial aid. Study authors found the pervasive problem of hunger ran deep.

“The typical food insecure student in this study is working part-time, receives financial aid, and is reaching out for assistance from aid programs — and is still struggling to get by,” Dubick said.

The University of South Florida opened a “Feed-A-Bull Food Pantry” last year after staff heard students’ food concerns. Students logged more than 500 visits over two semesters in its first year.

“Students were reporting that a lot of times they don’t have money that week for food, or they’d only be eating one meal a day because they didn’t have enough to make it to the end of the semester because their loans had run out, or they didn’t get their next paycheck,” Nicole Morgan, senior case manager for student outreach and support at USF, told the Times earlier this year.

The report was authored by a collection of campus-based groups, including the College and University Food Bank Alliance, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the Student Government Resource Center, and the Student Public Interest Research Groups.

Students surveyed were from eight community colleges and 26 four-year institutions.

If you’re interested in learning more, including proposals for addressing the issue, you can check out the “Hunger on Campus” report here.

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