By Marena – 4th Year Student
My name is Marena and this is my fourth and final year at Quest. For September block, I took an Epidemiology class and over the course of the three and a half weeks, I got to design and write a research proposal on any pressing issue in today’s world. I chose food insecurity, because after taking a course on this subject last year, I realized how prominent of an issue it is and how many people are affected by it. To apply the subject to something I had some experience with, I chose to also look at University students. For the sake of research abundance, I looked at students that attend public universities, not private ones (like Quest). To break up this huge assignment and to add to the class’ creative itch, our professor assigned us a blog post half way through the course. The following post is the blog I wrote for the course.
Is There an Association Between Being a University Student and Being Food Insecure?
By Marena Salerno Collins
Maybe students these days are hungry for more than just knowledge.
You know those days when you miss breakfast because you woke up late and you’re sitting in class and you can’t think straight?
Let’s say this is your reality every day and not just because you missed breakfast, just because you didn’t have it. Now, after that Psychology class you had at 9am, you have to study for your Biology midterm the next day, still breakfasts-less and hungry. How will that affect your sleep and stress levels? How will that affect your social life? And, how will that affect your performance in that class you didn’t have the energy to pay attention in?
There are 815 million chronically food-insecure and malnourished people worldwide (FAO). If that isn’t a surprising number, try thinking about this one: four in ten University students in Canada are food insecure (Maclean’s).
Why do we care? We care because these students are our future bankers, policy makers and doctors. But, even if they weren’t, shouldn’t the countries with extensive infrastructure in these areas have easily accessible, good quality, and affordable food?
Moreover, food insecurity in developed countries can be associated with income, location, and socio demographics factors and can lead to poor nutrition, overall health, learning, productivity, and higher stress and depressions levels. Specifically on university campuses, globally, food insecurity can be associated with age, ethnicity, parental status, and financial independence.
A study released earlier this year found that there is a larger percentage of students who are food insecure than there are in the general public. It found this result by looking at 59 cross-sectional journal articles and websites discussing the prevalence of food insecurity on post-secondary education campuses in largely developed countries. The study found that 42% and 35.6% of students on these campuses were food insecure in the articles and websites respectively.
The study was conducted on literature from the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Malaysia. In the study, food insecurity was assessed primarily by a 10-item adult food security module which asks questions about quantity and quality of the accessible food.
How can we address food insecurity on these campuses? It may be easy to outline but how can we make sure programs are effective and lasting? This same study looked at literature that presented some solutions.
Solutions include: individual financial coaching, institution level interventions (on-campus food pantries), increased financial aid and/or create basic living stipend for students. Data shows that on-campus food pantries tend to be the most popular solution.
Although, there are limitations to this study’s scope (including the number of universities examined and countries represented), this data provides policy makers and university officials the information they need to ensure food security for everyone on the post-secondary education campus. The authors say that “food insecurity is a major public health problem among postsecondary education students” and to improve the health and well-being of our educated future, action needs to be taken.