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Association of Office Professionals

Food Insecurity

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What is Food Insecurity?

When an individual lacks adequate amounts of nutritionally adequate food or experiences episodes during which they are unsure that they will have access to food, they are experiencing food insecurity (Coleman-Jensen et al., 2017, p. 1; US Department of Agriculture, 2022).

In fact, the USDA has designated certain levels of food insecurity: low food security and very low food security (USDA, 2018). “Low food security [occurs when an individual experiences] reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet with little to no indication of reduced food intake” (USDA, 2018). Conversely, “very low food security reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake” (USDA, 2018).

Food Insecurity

Prevalence of Food Insecurity

Studies show that 11 to 45 percent of college students (across community colleges and four-year universities) experienced food insecurity (Dickson & DeLoach, 2021). A 2020 survey indicated that 39% of college students had experienced food insecurity in the 30 days prior to being surveyed (Hope College, 2021).

These students are the future of our communities and our nation. Let’s help them eliminate the barrier that food insecurity presents to academic success (Zigmont, Linsmeier, & Gallup, 2019). This silent epidemic represents a barrier that can be diminished through consolidated efforts.

Impact of Food Insecurity

Health - Depression and sinking self-esteem can also occur, taxing an individual’s mental health (Farahbakhsh et al., 2017; Meza et al., 2018; Henry, 2017; Martinez et al., 2018). Moreover, students may seek to skip meals or nourish themselves with low-cost junk food, which could lead to long-term obesity (Bruening et al., 2016; Bruening et al., 2018).

Student Engagement - Effective learning requires that a student be engaged both within the context of their classes and socially among their fellow campus community members (Harris, 2008; Krause & Coates, 2008; Lewis, 2010; Li et al., 2010; Park, 2005; Wang & Eccles, 2012; Willms et al., 2009). Hence, several studies have observed a positive correlation between the level a student is engaged and their ability to achieve academically (Carini, Kuh & Klein, 2006; Coates, 2005; Connell et al., 1994; Furlong & Christenson, 2008; Marks, 2000; Park, 2005) academically. Students with unmet food needs can feel disconnected from their campus (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017).  

Academic Performance - Students suffering from food insecurity may experience increased fatigue, which makes it difficult to focus (Glik & Martinez, 2017). As an individual loses focus, food insecurity has been noted to adversely impact a student’s ability to perform academically, including decreased levels of confidence in their overall academic abilities (Cady, 2014; Camelo & Elliott, 2019; Farahbakhsh et al., 2017; Meza et al., 2018; Henry, 2017; Martinez et al., 2018).  

Over 50 percent of those responding to a study by Goldrick-Rab et al. (2018) both failed a class and identified themselves as food insecure. In Dubrick, Matthews, and Cady’s 2016 study, 33% of those identifying as food insecure noted that food insecurity impacted their education negatively, with 25 percent dropping classes as a result of food insecurity. In a 2018 study conducted by Phillips, McDaniel, and Croft, students identified as food insecure experienced a GPA decrease, considered dropping classes to a higher degree than other study participants, and contemplated dropping out of school.

For a list of references cited on this page, email Jennifer%20Lewis.


Return to our Community Service page for ways to help reduce food security issues.


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