Are College Kids ‘Hungry’? or ‘Food Insecure’? Researchers Want You To Believe They Are

A new study from the University of Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (UConnPIRG) suggests that a sizable share of college students are either ‘hungry’ or ‘food insecure’. This is the first time (to our knowledge) that anyone has give a lot of research time to studying college students’ food issues.

Sadly, the researchers in this instance may have reached conclusions as obvious as the fact that a sizable share of dogs will, given the opportunity, suggest to you (by begging or salivating) that they are hungry and/or food insecure.

College students, like dogs, are habitual creatures – or, put in a nicer way, creatures of habit. Like Pavlov’s dogs, which associated the ringing of a bell with food, college students associate the words  ‘pizza’ and ‘hungry’, and, separately, ‘energy bars’ with ‘good [things] to eat’. Neither of these word associations of students have much to do with reality, as pizza is only marginally healthy (read ‘true satisfiers of hunger’) as energy bars may be good for giving a boost when an all-night study session is at hand. But energy bars aren’t, like much else that students eat, particularly nutritious.

Anyone who knows or has in recent years known a college student shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that, given all the pressures on them to succeed in class (and, too often, in activities involving alcohol), close to one-quarter of the 3,800 surveyed said they were hungry and nearly half said they are food insecure.

Food insecurity was defined by the researchers – from a number of campus-based groups, including the University of Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (UConnPIRG), the College and University Food Bank Alliance, and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness – as the lack of reliable access to sufficient amounts of affordable, nutritious food. Very low levels of food security qualified students as hungry, a HealthDay report said yesterday (Sunday, Oct. 16).

The students were talked to by researchers at eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges in 12 states.  Hunger rates were 25% among community college students and 20% among those talked to at 4-year colleges, the research shows.

Food insecurity was reported by 57 percent of black students, compared with 40 percent of white students. Fifty-six percent of students whose parents didn’t attend college were food insecure, compared with 45 percent of students who had at least one parent who attended college, the study authors said.

“Hunger is an actual reality for far too many college students,” UConnPIRG’s Matt Talley said in a news release from the group.

“This problem threatens thousands of students who want to focus on academics but instead are left worrying about where they are going to get their next meal,” he said.

Food insecurity was a problem even for students who had jobs, were enrolled in a campus meal plan, or received some form of financial aid, the study found.

“The typical food insecure student in this study is working part-time, receives financial aid, and is reaching out for assistance from aid programs — and is still struggling to get by,” Talley said.

“When we have so many students who are doing everything right but still can’t afford food, it means we’re failing to provide these students with a viable path to success in their higher education,” he added.

OK, so much for what the researchers ‘found’, and supposedly believe. We (which in this instance means I) strongly suspect that, as anyone who pays attention to competing political surveys knows, you can, by asking the right questions, get the answers you want – or, put another way, confirm a pre-conceived notion, or idea.

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