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K-State Today

September 6, 2019

Food insecurity for K-State students

Submitted by Bradley M Galka

K-State's Online Journal of Rural Research and Policy, part of the Chapman Center for Rural Studies, published a new article on Aug. 29 that hits home for Kansas State. The article, "Food Insecurity and Assistance on Campus: A Survey of the Student Body," analyzes the results of an online survey that was available from April to May 2017 and was used to assess the level of food insecurity among Kansas State students. Authors Michael Miller, Gerad Middendorf, Spencer Wood, Sonya Lutter, Scott Jones and Brian Lindshield are an interdisciplinary team of K-State researchers.

According to the article, food insecurity occurs when a person "reduces the quality, variety, or desirability of (their) diet" due to circumstances beyond their control — often because they do not have enough money to buy more food. The survey at K-State showed that 44.3 percent of respondents qualified as being "food insecure." To be considered food insecure, a respondent must have reported experiencing at least two of the following criteria over a seven-month period: 1) they didn’t have enough food to last and didn’t have money to buy more, 2) they couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals, 3) they cut the size of or skipped meals, 4) they ate less than they felt they should because they didn’t have enough money, or, 5) they were hungry and didn’t eat.

Even though 44.3 percent of students reported not having adequate food, the vast majority, 91.6 percent, had not used food assistance services during the 2016-2017 academic year, even though most of them, 71.8 percent, were aware that such services may have been available to them. Similarly, only 6.3 percent of respondents indicated that they had used government-provided food assistance, in this case the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which is also commonly known as "food stamps." The authors postulate that the clear aversion among many respondents to using food assistance was due to either "the stigma associated with needing assistance, a general attitude against seeking out assistance, [or] a general ideology that government should not fund programs for food assistance."

Despite a mixed response to the theoretical question of utilization of an on-campus pantry, students surveyed were, in fact, receptive to seeking services. The Cats’ Cupboard: The K-State Food Pantry opened in September 2017 following the survey. According to a 2018 university news release the pantry had more than 2,000 visits during the first 11 months of being open. In addition, the pantry helped its 1,000 unique visitor during summer 2019, according to Sarah Barrett, Clery Act federal compliance coordinator and food pantry supervisor. 

The problem of food insecurity among college students is not unique to Kansas State University. Other recent surveys have shown that 34 to 59 percent of college students at universities across the U.S. face the same or similar issues. The authors suggest that further research and more vigorous actions on the part of university administrators will be needed to address this widespread issue, including making a greater effort to "increase awareness of the availability of food assistance options, while also reducing any stigma related to using such assistance."