Seeing and ending college student hunger

Martha Coventry | March 24, 2023

Originally published in the March 2023 issue of the Notes on Antiracism, Justice, and Equity newsletter.

March is National Nutrition Month and in this column we look at food justice, food insecurity among college students, and the pioneering research of SPH professor Melissa Laska.

U of M campus in the summerFood insecurity, or a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle, is a very real problem for college students. School of Public Health (SPH) professor Melissa Laska’s research estimates that one in four college students in Minnesota is food insecure. Rates are even higher for students from marginalized communities — for example, 33% of first-generation college students and 43% of Black students in Minnesota are food insecure, Laska wrote in a recent op-ed

“The stereotype of college students living in exclusive dormitories and eating in dining halls is far from reality for many,” says Laska. 

Food insecure students, Laska’s research found, are often working two to three jobs with late hours and trying to decide which bills can go unpaid in any given month. They’re walking through life exhausted because of the constant mental math and logistical hoops they have to jump through. And many are dealing with historical trauma and the terrible feeling that they’re missing out on what college is ‘supposed’ to be.

Research shows that college students who experience food insecurity are 43% less likely than their peers to graduate. Laska and colleagues’ pioneering work on this issue served as a cornerstone for the 2018 Government Accountability Office report on federal food assistance for college students, which resulted in them being eligible, with stipulations, for the first time for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits

March is National Nutrition Month, and this particular March brings a drastic change to the SNAP program. The U.S. put in place a pandemic emergency program in March 2020 that offered food relief in a variety of ways. It suspended work and work training requirements for college student SNAP benefits and added about $1 billion to increase food security across the U.S. This month, those safeguards end, adding a hunger burden to 30 million people in a year when grocery prices have increased 10 percent.

Food insecurity during the college years is a public health concern and it is part of the overarching problem of food justice in the U.S. Healthy foods are a human right, but not all people have equitable access to them. Everyone can play a role in advancing food justice and  here are some resources to learn more about and get involved with creating food security:

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