Food insecurity, or lack of access to safe, nutritious and affordable food, is a growing concern worldwide. In 2016, 12.3 percent of U.S. households — about 15.6 million people — were food insecure at some time during the year, and one population in particular is experiencing a rise in prevalence of food insecurity: college students.
With the cost of attending college increasing, it is no surprise that college students are struggling to find their next meal. A recent study found half of college students to be food insecure, whether that is indicated by having to skip meals, cut portions or not eat all day. When students are properly nourished, they have the tools necessary to succeed and ultimately make a difference in the world. This year’s National Nutrition Month® theme “Go Further with Food” hit home with us at Bowling Green State University as we thought about how far students can go with proper nutrition.
BGSU Food and Nutrition faculty administered a food insecurity survey in 2017. Although the survey reached a small number of students (n=382), the results indicated a clear path to help students who may be facing financial hardships. Many college students are juggling academics with jobs and families. The survey results showed that 48.9 percent of students felt they could not regularly afford to eat balanced meals and 30.1 percent struggled to afford food. The survey indicated that there is a need for accessible, free food on campus. In response to this need, BGSU obtained a grant for the funding of two mobile food pantries.
For only four hours on two nonconsecutive days, the Food for Thought mobile pantry from Toledo, OH served 168 people. Most of the participants were students, although the pantry did serve a few community members and BGSU staff. Students could “shop the pantry” for non-perishable goods and fresh produce from local farms, a practice that gives people autonomy over food choices and ultimately creates less food waste. Students showed gratitude for this service and many also volunteered at the mobile pantry. The pantry also provided access to resources on healthy eating on a budget, decreasing food waste by being more mindful at the grocery store and at home, and quick recipe ideas.
BGSU plans to administer a more comprehensive study this spring. This data will be used to plan more programming, provide resources and ultimately, help students Go Further with Food!