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It's Not A Badge of Honor: Fighting College Hunger

Food insecurity among college students is in the range of 14–59%. This number, in some cases, is double the national average (Henry, 2017). The intersection of higher education and food insecurity has emerged as a critical concern, shedding light on the challenges faced by college students across the country. The link between food insecurity and college students has become increasingly apparent, revealing a hidden crisis that extends beyond the boundaries of campus life. As young individuals pursue their academic aspirations, many find themselves grappling with limited financial resources, leading to difficulty in accessing nutritious and sufficient meals. 

"As young individuals pursue their academic aspirations, many find themselves grappling with limited financial resources, leading to difficulty in accessing nutritious and sufficient meals." 

The mixture of food insecurity and stress of college contributes to food-insecure students being more likely to fall into a lower GPA category compared to their food-secure counterparts, diminishes students' ability to excel in class, and contributes to lower attendance and completion rates. Food-insecure college students display higher rates of psychological distress, loneliness, anxiety, depression, and suicidal behavior. In a study conducted on 27 students through interviews and focus groups, college students who were food insecure were faced with shame daily and were least likely to ask for help. Even with having the motivation to achieve their degree, they were least likely to achieve high grades (Henry, 2017). Food insecure students are more likely to buy cheap, highly processed food, which leads to the overconsumption of refined sugars and bad fats. A healthy and full diet gives energy, which leads to no burnout and focus throughout class. 

Financial stress throughout college is common. It's almost considered a badge of honor. Higher rates of food insecurity among college students include a growing population of low-income students, high college costs, insufficient financial aid, and government programs that specifically exclude many college students from participation. Programs like SNAP were not eligible for college students until COVID-19. During the pandemic, college students had access to the government program for the first time, accepting almost 6 million first-time college students who did not qualify previously.

Colleges and Universities across the US are fighting food insecurity on campus. Access to education on nutrition has provided aid for fellow students by exposing them to things like food Pantries, Farmer's markets, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Food pantries, individual sites that distribute bags or boxes of food directly to those in need who reside in a specified area, have been popping up on college campuses throughout the country. A CSA's job consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes the "community's farm", with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Universities like Montclair State, fight to end food insecurity on campus by providing different food options like healthy food vending machines, farmer's markets partnering with local businesses, and educational labels on every product they serve throughout the campus.

On a federal and state level, the House and Senate have introduced the Hunger-Free Campus Bill, which is available in six states including New Jersey. This Bill, if passed, will allow students to donate extra meal swipes from their meal plan to other students. It will also help establish a campus food pantry and provide access to programs like SNAP (H.R.1919 - EATS Act of 2021) (S.1569 - Student Food Security Act of 2021).

This complex issue intersects with various socio-economic factors, highlighting the need for a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted nature of food insecurity among college students. Addressing this challenge is crucial not only for the well-being of individual students but also for fostering a supportive and inclusive higher education environment that enables all students to thrive academically and personally.


Henry, L. (2017). Understanding Food Insecurity Among College Students: Experience, motivation, and local solutions. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 41(1), 6–19.

‌McCoy, M., Martinelli, S., Reddy, S., Don, R., & Thompson, A. (2022, January 31). Food Insecurity On College Campuses: The Invisible Epidemic [Review of Food Insecurity On College Campuses: The Invisible Epidemic]. Health Affairs; Health Affairs.

‌Payne-Sturges, D. C., Tjaden, A., Caldeira, K. M., Vincent, K. B., & Arria, A. M. (2017). Student Hunger on Campus: Food Insecurity Among College Students and Implications for Academic Institutions. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(2), 349–354.

Freudenberg, N., Goldrick-Rab, S., & Poppendieck, J. (2019). College Students and SNAP: The New Face of Food Insecurity in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 109(12), 1652–1658.

‌Hagedorn-Hatfield, R. L., Hood, L. B., & Hege, A. (2022). A Decade of College Student Hunger: What We Know and Where We Need to Go. Frontiers in Public Health, 10.

About the Contributor

Samone Wellington is an Intern at the Coalition for Food and Health Equity. Growing up in Jersey City, her passion for food has inspired her to obtain her Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts from Hudson County Community College.

She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition and Food Science with a concentration in Food Systems from Montclair State University.

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