College Students: A Different Face of Hunger

While some students worry about gaining the “freshman 15” when they go to college, other students are more concerned about where they will find their next meal. Food insecurity is a growing topic of discussion on college campuses. A recent study at Western Oregon University found that 59% of the 354 students surveyed experienced food insecurity at some point in the last year. In comparison, the rate of food insecurity for all Americans is estimated to be around 15%.

Many factors may contribute to food insecurity among college students, including the high cost of tuition, learning to juggle living expenses, limited transportation, and balancing school work with part-time jobs.

Although the Oregon study only provides data from one rural college campus, other trends across the country also indicate that food insecurity among college students is widespread. For example, many colleges have recently opened food pantries on their campuses as a source of emergency food for students. Michigan State University started what is considered the first campus-based food bank in 1993, and it now serves more than 4,000 people a year.

In northwest Ohio, Owens Community College opened its own food pantry run by and for students. Opened in February 2012, the Owens Harvest Food Pantry serves 450 — 600 people a month. A partnership with Seagate Foodbank of Northwest Ohio, along with local food donations and fresh food from the college’s own community garden, helps the pantry keep its shelves stocked. The pantry provides both nutritious food for those in need and service learning opportunities for students interested in volunteering.

The growth of college food pantries, in addition to the Western Oregon University study, indicates a need for all colleges to take a look at their students’ health and nutrition needs. It is also a reminder to all of us that food insecurity affects a wide range of individuals; There is no typical face of hunger.

Visit the College and University Food Bank Alliance web site for more information about hunger among college students and food banks on campuses.

Chloe Berdan, MS, RD, LD, is a clinical dietitian with ProMedica Advocacy and Community Health, and her main passion is promoting childhood and adolescent health and wellness. She has a bachelor of science degree in Health and Sport Studies from Miami University and a master of science degree in Clinical Nutrition from Rush University.