Food Insecurity Among College Students

September 20, 2019 

When it comes to the prevalence of food insecurity among college students, estimates vary widely, but it’s a common enough issue to have become a stereotype. “Food insecurity” refers to people who do not have enough resources to meet their most basic needs, such as regular, nutritionally adequate meals. We all know—whether in real life or fictionalized—the kid who slurps her noodle cup over a text book, a bag of gummy worms tucked into her backpack as a dessert reward if she manages to get through her philosophy chapter before midnight.

For some alumni, the money troubles of college are looked back upon as a joke, or an ironic badge of honor. “How many days did you live on PB&Js back when you were an undergrad?” becomes an offhanded party quiz. But the reality of hunger and food insecurity among college students is no joke. In fact, a 2014 study conducted in Maryland using community college students found a strong correlation between lack of adequate nutrition and lower GPA. In some cases, the gap between students with adequate food access and those without was as large as two full grade points.

Who Experiences Food Insecurity?

It is hardly easy to pinpoint an exact, single reason for any complex economic problem. Food insecurity among students is no exception; however when you couple the rising costs of tuition and related campus services such as dormitory housing and cafeteria meal plans, a clearer picture emerges. There are also now more nontraditional students than ever before—a population that includes single parents, retirees pursuing a dream, and people in recovery who may not have solid social supports. Depending on the circumstances, some students with drug convictions will be ineligible for federal student aid. This leaves an already vulnerable population at risk for food insecurity.

How Can Food Insecurity Affect Recovery

It is well known that stress is a major risk factor for relapse. Many times, when people hear the word “stress,” we think of psychological stress. Anxiety, heartbreak, depression, and so on. But stress can also be experienced physically. Fatigue is an example of physical stress. As is hunger. In fact, there is a common recovery acronym used to help people with substance use disorders identify some of the most common sensations associated with lapsing. HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. HALT is often used to highlight the need for self-care; if we can notice the early stages of, say, loneliness, then we can reach out to supportive friends and family before the pain of unwanted solitude becomes more than we can handle.

What Can Colleges Do?

In the face of food insecurity, addressing hunger becomes a much more difficult conundrum. When it comes to caring for students, institutions for higher learning can do their part to alleviate the stress of food insecurity. This can involve free on-campus food pantries, where students can pick up non-perishable food items. Adequate counseling services that include screening for economic hardship can help schools identify those students who may need a little extra help.

The Ammon Foundation believes that when individuals are holistically and strategically supported to build purposeful lives, the likelihood of them maintaining their recovery substantially increases. We provide this support via our Ammon Recovery Scholars Program. Our program goals include: removing financial barriers through financial scholarships; providing strategic support for recipients through offering personal, professional and academic support; and creating a supportive peer community committed to combating the stigma associated with addiction by promoting that recovery is possible. We are committed to giving away at least $100,000 in scholarships annually and are looking to fund education as a stepping stone to stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. To find out more about our programs, or to apply for an educational scholarship, please click here or email