Story at a glance

  • Food insecurity can lead to physical and mental health issues.
  • In a new study, researchers look at long-term survey data to compare college students who were food secure to those who were food insecure.
  • They found that food insecure students were 43 percent less likely to graduate.

We’ve learned that, especially during the current pandemic, food insecurity is linked to not only physical health but mental health. In a study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, researchers found that about 15 percent of students qualified as food insecure. The study surveyed college students from 1999 to 2003, then followed up on them in 2015 to 2017.

The data used in the study comes from a long-running project called Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which is government funded. The longitudinal study has followed thousands of families in the U.S. since 1968 using annual or biennial surveys. The surveys asked about sociodemographic, economic and health information on all the family members.

For this study, they tracked more than 1,500 individuals who enrolled in college or higher education during the first period and were still part of the long-term study by the later period. The students were classified as being food insecure if the parents answered the survey saying they were food insecure at any point during the college years period. The researchers noted that most of the students lived at home as dependents while attending school.


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The team analyzed the data and found that the students who were food insecure were 43 percent less likely to graduate from college, including associate’s degrees. They were also 61 percent less likely to obtain a graduate or professional degree. Students who were first-generation college students and also experiencing food insecurity were also less likely to graduate compared to first generation students who were food secure.

“Food insecurity during college is a barrier to graduation and higher-degree attainment,” write the authors in the study.

The researchers think this study suggests that there is much more that can be done to support college students who are in need.

“These results suggest that we really need robust policies to address food insecurity among college students, especially now with the higher food insecurity levels observed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said study lead author Julia Wolfson, an assistant professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School, in a press release.


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Published on Sep 12, 2021