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Is food insecurity on the rise among college students?

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Gaining the ‘freshman 15’ may no longer be the biggest nutritional issue facing some college students.

A study recently published by the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior surveyed 354 students at Western Oregon University and found that 59 percent felt that they did not have enough access to affordable, healthy foods – a condition known as ‘food insecurity.'

As defined within the study, food insecurity is “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”

Researchers suspect the high cost of college attendance – along with the recent rise in low-income and first generation students attending college – is partially to blame because students may have less money to put towards quality food.

“Through this recession, the effects [of income instability] are more widespread and, as a result, lower-to-middle income students are struggling,” Daniel López-Cevallos, associate director of research at Oregon State University, said. “Two-thirds of students are food insecure.”

The study also noted that a lack of healthy food options could have a lasting negative impact on a student’s cognitive, academic and psychosocial development.

Although this study was conducted at a single college, researchers are confident that food insecurity is a problem that impacts college students nationwide.

“Concerns are real and are not unique to these rural universities in Oregon.” López-Cevallos said. “There have been other studies [of food insecurity], for example, in both Hawaii and Australia.”

Thoroughly resolving this issue will take time, there are some immediate steps that can be taken by universities.

“In my experience, the more common solution has been to provide food pantry systems. I think these systems are a good source of support for students,” López-Cevallos said.

Other colleges have found success through on-campus farmer’s markets, which provide healthy foods at affordable prices.

“Ultimately, our goal is to provide these students with a degree which will give them a chance at social mobility,” López-Cevallos said. “It’s important to come back to the table with students and universities to consider what type of stability we can provide to students.”