College students not exempt from food insecurity


Some BYU students are among the 48.1 million Americans who live in food-insecure households, including 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children according to

Food insecurity is defined as having limited access to adequate food because of lack of money and other resources, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food insecurity in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the last decade in concert with the 2008 economic recession. Food insecurity rose 24 percent in 2008 alone, according to the USDA.

While campaigns have established free breakfasts and reduced lunches for K-12 schools, a large portion of students who suffer from food insecurity have seemingly been forgotten: college students.

Students attending college, including BYU, are not immune to food insecurity. One in 10 adults seeking emergency food assistance is a student, and two million of those students are full-time, according to MSNBC.

Binge eating can be a serious problem for college students with the stress of school and jobs. (Samantha Williams)
Food insecurity has become an increasingly prevalent problem on college campuses (Samantha Williams)

“There is this notion, at least anecdotally, that I’ve heard from people saying, ‘Oh college students, you know, they don’t really experience food insecurity issues,'” said BYU associate professor of nutrition Rickelle Richards. “That’s not true.”

Surviving on mounds of Top Ramen noodles and 2 a.m. runs to Taco Bell are seen as a rite of passage for college students. But rising tuition and living expenses leave some students unable to afford anything else. Today, some students are forced to choose between paying for college and basic living expenses.

According to an article in the Duke student newspaper The Chronicle, 31 percent of students report the need to choose between purchasing food and paying their tuition. Therefore, today’s students are forced to choose between their own well-being and gaining a higher education.

People who are privileged enough to pay for higher education aren’t often seen as people who are struggling to feed themselves for the next week.

“When looking at a budget, students think, ‘What can be cut?'” said Richards. “Rent is fixed. Tuition is fixed. Often, the food budget is the only thing that can be cut.”

Starving college students fare better in some states than others. For instance in Washington and Oregon, students can qualify for food stamps or other food assistance programs; but students in Utah aren’t so lucky. Most students don’t qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAPS, leaving them with few helpful options at the end of the day.

“We’re lucky because we’re at BYU, and because we’re a church-affiliated school, we have the bishop’s storehouse,” Richards said. While many BYU students can access  assistance through their the LDS wards, other institutions must come up with their own solutions to this growing issue.

Some college campuses have been slow to recognize this not-so-new problem.

“The reason why I think (food insecurity) really is an issue, is because we are seeing food banks opening up on campuses,” Richards said. “UVU has a food bank. To me, that says, ‘Come on, this is an issue.’ Now, granted, why they are needing to go to the food bank, we don’t know that.”

Food banks and the bishop storehouses aren’t the only solutions. Educating students on how to buy healthy foods on a budget and stretching meals is another way to aid students who may be too proud to ask for help. Education is one way to combat the negative effects that food insecurity and eating poorly can have on students.

“You need everything in moderation and in the right balance,” said Mandy Montgomery, a 21-year-old nutrition TA, studying dietetics at BYU. “There’s no one magic food.”

Aspects such as economic status cannot be changed simply because health experts suggest getting a better job or working more hours. Sometimes poor eating stems from convenience more than spending.

“I’m in between classes right now, so it’s just easy for me to run over and grab something when I have my wallet instead of walking all the way home or waking up early to pack a lunch,” said Alex Hill, a 21-year-old senior studying communication disorders at BYU. “It’s just more convenient.”

But the answer doesn’t seem to lie in any one place. An accumulation of education and available programs can make a positive change. Policy changes and a focus on ending the stigma of asking for help could be the next steps college campuses need to take to help the silently starving students on campus.

“When it comes down to it, we know that education alone doesn’t work,” said Richards. “If you are limited by your economic status … there might be nothing we can educate you on to make that better.”

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