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Hunger in higher education

Hunger could make it difficult to stay focused. Photo by pexels.com

According to a study from Temple University, about half of all college students in the United States have food insecurity, and approximately 13% of community college students are homeless.

With student debt rising, and food costs sky-rocketing, many college students face the challenge of hunger on a regular basis.

“From 2019 to 2020, consumer prices for all items rose 1.4 percent,” a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported stated. Over that period, food prices increased 3.9 percent, a larger percentage increase than the 12-month increase of 1.8 percent in 2019. Food at home prices increased 3.9 percent in 2020, the largest over-the-year increase since 2011.”

A chart showing 12-month percent change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, selected items, not seasonally adjusted. Graphic by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

This recent increase in the cost of food may impact the possibility of college students obtaining much-needed nutrition.

“There is a significant correlation between nutrition and mental health,” Dr. Muhammad Omair Ansar said in an article on proper nutrition. “Therefore, proper nutrition improves a person’s mental alertness. Consuming adequate nutrition and fostering a healthy meal routine can help in preventing various mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.”

During the current economic recession that resulted largely from the COVID-19 pandemic, many students must balance a budget to pay for school, housing, and food. Food is often expensive, and many students find themselves scrimping on nutrition in order to make ends meet.

Lack of proper nutrition can make studying harder. Photo by pexels.com

Many students with financial challenges have to juggle the balance of housing costs, classes, and food. Those who worry about money can find themselves losing sleep, stressed out, and even getting lower grades. Lower grades can mean losing a scholarship. 

“I wouldn’t be able to focus or I would lose sleep, I would just be really anxious,” said a full-time student in an article for American Progress. 

Several organizations are stepping up to address the issue of hunger in San Luis Obispo. They are funded by the government, private industries, and others through donations. To mitigate the hunger problem, SLO Food Bank implemented a program to supplement students’ food budgets.

“The SLO Food Bank believes everyone has the right to nutritious food,” says a statement on SLO Food Bank’s website. “With reliable access to wholesome food, we are all healthier, happier, and more productive members of our communities. Our mission is to work with a network of community partners to alleviate hunger in San Luis Obispo County and build a stronger community.”

Cuesta College students can also visit the Cougar Food Pantry, which is open Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. at both the SLO Campus in the Student Center and the North County Campus in the Campus Center. These services are available to students who are currently enrolled at Cuesta College.

“Food insecurity can negatively impact a student’s academic performance and mental health,” said Anthony Gutierrez, Cuesta College Life and Leadership Coordinator. “It is important to address these issues and make sure our students are successful inside and outside of the classroom. We hope that the Cougar Food Pantry will help Cuesta College accomplish this.”

CalFresh, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP), provides funding for students with a debit card that can be used to buy foods at various local markets. This federally funded organization helps students by providing a monthly nutrition benefit. Students may submit an on-line application for assistance.

“It is harder to concentrate when hungry,” said Kate Haisch, a CHT Nutrition/Culinary Arts full-time faculty member and lead of the Culinary Arts Department at Cuesta College. “It is also harder to concentrate when you are experiencing stress over where your next meal will come from.”

Food Bank distribution is monthly. The next one will be on Tuesday, November 16, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. in Parking Lot 3 of the SLO campus, and in Parking Lot 11 of the North County Campus.