College students are a relatively unstudied population when it comes to hunger issues, and yet, they are among the most likely populations to experience food insecurity in the United States.
Rates vary between institutions, but estimates suggest between 25 to 50 percent of college students nationwide are food insecure, says Mateja Savoie Roskos, a community nutrition professor at Utah State University. And USU is no different. A recent campus study by USU nutrition researchers found that 32 percent of Aggies are food insecure, meaning they have insufficient access to nutritious foods.
“Initially, some suspected USU would have a lower rate because of the strong network of support from family members and religious groups,” Savoie Roskos says. “But there are still a lot of people who can’t put food on the table.”
Examining food insecurity on college campuses is a relatively new area study. Many early investigations did not take into account nontraditional students who may be among the most vulnerable individuals to experiencing hunger. For example, some studies of food insecurity among college students don’t include factors such as marital or parental status because there are so few students with these backgrounds attending some types of higher education institutions, Savoie Roskos says.
But that isn’t true across the board. Community colleges often have a higher percentage of nontraditional students than private four-year colleges. And USU researchers found that more than 70 percent of food insecure Aggies have jobs, 22 percent are married, and 9 percent have children.
Another issue the researchers uncovered was that many USU students are not utilizing some of the resources on campus designed to help reduce food insecurity such as the Student Nutrition Access Center food pantry. Since it was established in 2010 there has been an uptick in student visits, however, there remains a gap in utilization by those who need it most. The researchers found that less than a third of food insecure knew about the pantry, and of those, only half used it.
In the fall, USU joined 24 other universities to participate in a national study conducted by West Virginia University to examine the prevalence of food insecurity on college campuses nationwide. The hope is that the study can bring the problem of food insecurity on college campuses into sharper focus and help parse some of the factors that can identify students who are most at risk for hunger.