A Surprising Number of College Students Struggle to Find Enough Food

Food insecurity, a problem normally associated with poverty, also plagues college campuses

Photo: Martin Cathrael

In 2011, around 15 percent of all U.S. households suffered from food insecurity—uncertain access to safe, nutrional food, either because that food's not available or it's too hard to get in what the USDA calls "socially acceptable ways." Usually, food insecurity is associated with families living well below the poverty line. According to new research, however, this problem might also impact another cohort of people: college students.

In a study conducted at Western Oregon University, scientists found that 59 percent of around 350 surveyed students reported conditions qualifying them as food insecure during at least one point in the last year. In a statement, the researchers said they expected to find some degree of food insecurity on the campus, but that the actual prevalence revealed by the study was "shocking." 

Increasing cost of tuition, rent, books, supplies and other higher education-related expenses may be drying up funds that students would otherwise use to feed themselves and maintain a healthy diet, the researchers hypothesize. Lacking in nutrients, the researchers say, might also impact a student's ability to perform well cognitively and excel at school. 

While the study was confined to a single university, the team speculates that the results would likely apply to other campuses across the country. 

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