For decades, the stereotypical image of a “starving” college student surviving off of Ramen for their meals has prevailed throughout the U.S. Now, as college costs continue to rise and students are often forced to choose between academic-related expenses and food, some argue that these stereotypes are masking a serious problem of food insecurity that is growing on college campuses today.
Many of these same students may be eligible to participate in, and could truly benefit from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, according to a new government report, this federal resource continues to be both under-marketed and under-utilized by students.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is defined as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” It can affect a wide range of populations and has been tied to decreased academic performance, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and other negative mental health indicators.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which was released in December, examined 31 preexisting studies on food insecurity among students since federal data on the subject does not currently exist. While the almost 60-page report covers a wide range of information on the topic, a few key takeaways stand out.
One of the reasons for growing rates of hunger on today’s college campuses can be traced to an increase in the number of low-income students now pursuing postsecondary degrees. According to data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), the percentage of all undergraduates who had a household income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line increased from 28 percent in 1996 to 39 percent in 2016.