Food Insecurity at Acadia University

Dr. Lesley Frank is a professor in Acadia’s Sociology Department. Frank, alongside a graduate student in the department, has been conducting a study investigating the prevalence food insecurity at Acadia. The research was spurred in part by Meal Exchange, a Canadian student-run organization. The research seeks to address the lack of measures of food insecurity on Canadian campuses, as no such studies had been conducted prior to the current research. The research conducted was done in part with the University of Saskatchewan.

The research, conducted last winter, indicates that food insecurity is a significant issue for many university students. Frank’s research measured food insecurity through a ten-question scale and asked about a variety of topics relating to financial stability, accessing sufficient quantities, and qualities of food, all adapted to a student population and a one-person household. The survey was administered 1030 students, nearly one third of the student body, Frank found that 38.1% of students, or 392, classify as food insecure. When looking at just off-campus students (who do not live at home with their parents), who are even more pressured to find their own food because of lack of a meal plan, the percentage became 49.5%.

The data showed many trends in regards to grouping of food insecure students. A prominent trend indicated that as students move through university, their level of food security decreases. There was a higher rate of food insecurity for working students than for non-working students. Students who paid for their schooling through their own employment had the highest rate of food insecurity, at 56%, followed by students who used loans to pay for school. Results such as these highlight the deep connection between financial means and food security.  Additionally, students were asked about how food insecurity impacted their university experience, including health, academic and social outcomes. Half of food insecure students said that their experience was affected by being food insecure. The data produced statistically significant findings surrounding the connection between stress levels, self-reports of physical and mental health, and grades with food insecurity. The more food insecure a student is, the higher the stress, and the poorer the health outcomes and grades.

Food charity resources such as the food bank are not resources that many students know about or use. The research shows that less than 1% of students use food charity resources. Students cope with food security in a variety of ways.  Strategies that food insecure students reported using included borrowing money from family or friends, as well as a heavy reliance on credit cards to purchase food. Just under half of these students reported delaying buying text books or avoiding all together, as well as obtaining part time jobs to earn money to provide for food costs.

This research is very revealing and highlights a prominent issue. Student food insecurity is not an issue that is exclusive to Acadia University. As a result of the research Frank is working on, 13 other universities across the country have used the survey and are in process of measuring food insecurity at other Canadian campuses.

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