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Several higher education institutions in the U.S. lack access to a steady supply of nutritious food and that can harm a student’s ability to learn, according to research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

“Food insecure students were more likely to fail assignments and exams, withdraw from classes or the university, and had lower grade point averages than their counterparts,” Dr. Yu-Wei Wang of the University of Maryland-College Park said at the meeting.

“Additionally, they reported missing out on professional development opportunities, such as internships, which may affect their future career ambitions.”

In a survey of 86,000 students from 123 U.S. educational institutions, researchers at the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice found nearly 41 percent of university and 48 percent of college students reported food insecurity, according to Wang.

“With increasing wealth inequality and student loan debt in the United States, we need to address the food insecurity problem on college campuses and make sure it does not restrict a student’s ability to succeed,” she said in a statement.

Wang also discussed data from her study, in which 4,901 students at the University of Maryland-College Park were interviewed in fall 2017. Nearly 20 percent of the students cited concerns about accessibility to nutritious food, 13 percent said they could not afford nutritious food, and 7 percent said they skipped meals or had smaller meals because they could not afford food.

The findings echo other studies that were discussed at the meeting.

Food insecurity disproportionately impacts certain student groups

Two of the studies presented at the meeting found certain student groups were more likely to suffer food insecurity, including:

  • First-generation college students;
  • Racial/ethnic minority students;
  • International students;
  • Students with immigration backgrounds those who identified as Transgender/gender non-conforming; and
  • Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Students reported poorer general health and experienced higher levels of depression, anxiety, distress, anger, and loneliness than their peers who were not food insecure,” Wang said in a statement.

“Some students did not use resources they are eligible for because they felt embarrassed, ashamed or believed that other students were in greater need.”

Dr. Harmony A. Reppond of the University of Michigan, Dearborn, who also presented her research, is calling on schools to create advisory committees to discuss food policy and advertise food pantry open houses for faculty, staff and students.

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