An 18-year-old patient of mine recently started college. After overcoming many hurdles in life, including the death of one parent and the absence of the other, this outstanding athlete and student was recruited by a coach at a four-year university—and given a full scholarship. But I'm worried: Will my patient have food insecurity?
We don't usually think of college students as having food insecurity. It's time that we do. Food insecurity, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is limited ability to acquire, or uncertain availability of, nutritionally adequate and safe foods. A 2015 study found that college students were far more likely than the general population to suffer from food insecurity.
Hunger is more than a pang. It is defined as a very high level of food insecurity. In fact, 22 percent of college students in the U.S. are hungry, according to a 2016 report, "Hunger on Campus", which surveyed almost 4,000 college students. The findings may alarm you:
Students who reported food or housing insecurity felt that these problems caused them to:
Students at community colleges are even more likely to be hungry. A recent survey of more than 33,000 community college students found that 33 percent were hungry.
Hunger hurts. It causes fatigue and poor concentration and can contribute to depression and anxiety. Students that are hungry consume cheaper and higher-calorie foods with limited nutritional value, which can lead to anemia, infections, and chronic illnesses including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes — even obesity.
I did the math based on projected college enrollment: More than four million students will go hungry this year. Feeding these individuals and preventing hunger on campuses is the mission of organizations like these:
Parents and guardians, talk with your children about what it means to have food insecurity. Together, donate to food pantries and contribute money to organizations that fight hunger.
Parents and guardians of college-age children, discuss the problem of food insecurity on college campuses and make sure your child is not one of the 22 percent to 33 percent. Encourage participation in campus projects aimed at fighting hunger on college campuses. If your children identify peers with food insecurity, they should encourage them to get help from advisers, deans, financial aid officers, or student health centers. The "Hunger on Campus" report contains additional resources for college students with food insecurity.