Food security is an important issue in the developing world and is recognized as a growing problem in developed countries especially as it affects nutrition among vulnerable population groups such as post-secondary students. Research has shown that it is critical to have proper nutrition to support student learning and academic performance and success. At Trent University, what is the prevalence of food (in)security?
Our research project examined the factors affecting food security and its implications for student health and academic performance among full-time first-year university students living away from home. An online survey was developed and distributed using selected questions from the 18-item Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) from Statistics Canada’s annual Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). Participants answered questions about their experiences and challenges in accessing food during the first academic semester (Fall) in 2016.
Our study identified that food insecurity is an issue for nearly half of the full-time first-year students at Trent University living independently away from home. An alarming 48.0% of the student respondents surveyed experienced some degree of food insecurity during their first semester. Approximately one-third or 32.3% were Moderately Food Insecure, meaning they had compromised quality and/or quantity of food they ate due to lack of money; and 15.7% experienced Severe Food Insecurity meaning they were skipping meals or full days without food because of their lack of ability to get enough to eat during the term.
Our analysis showed significant associations between food security status and students’ living accommodation, as well as meal plan participation. While a large proportion of students living on campus was categorized as Food Secure, those living off campus were more likely to be found Food Insecure.
Student respondents’ self-reported mental health (anxiety, depression), ability to keep up with schoolwork and academic performance were all found to be associated with their food security status. Within these self-reported categories, students categorized as Food Secure were more likely to report a more positive mental health status, ability to keep up with schoolwork and overall academic performance than students categorized as being Food Insecure. Although no significant association was noted between food security status and student respondents’ sources of financial support, we observed within our findings that a greater proportion of students who relied on their family for financial support were Food Secure than those who relied on other sources of income.
This study suggests that a significant portion of the population of full-time first-year Trent University students living away from home are Food Insecure. Further, this is related to their living and funding situations and that their food security status may be affecting their academic performance and aspects of their health. By effectively addressing food issue at Trent, we may better facilitate student retention, enhance academic achievement and contribute to short and long term social, physical and mental health among these individuals.
You can download the factsheet here