Food Insecurity on College Campuses

Terryce Boxley is a senior community health major at the University of Oklahoma that has written a blog about food insecurity on college campuses. Check it out below, and make sure to connect with the OU Food Pantry if you’re facing food insecurity in your home.


Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner”.  Hunger is a stressful and distracting circumstance. Hunger and malnutrition can also have tangible effects on eyesight, cognition and attention, which makes this issue particularly detrimental to those pursuing studies in higher education. A well-functioning brain is central to the whole thing.

Lack of variety in diet, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables and quality protein sources can lead to malnourishment which can affect students’ ability to succeed academically. The USDA recommends meals balanced in fruits and vegetables, grains, protein and fats. The macronutrients from these foods provide fuel for our bodies and brains and the micronutrients present provide vitamins and minerals that are essential to cellular processes. Without adequate nutrition, students cannot perform at their best.

Food insecurity is often a symptom of financial stress. Financial stress can lead to problems affording class materials and may lead to missing or dropping classes. Food insecurity can undermine students’ academic success; so, it is an important problem to address. The majority of food-insecure students are employed, likely because they struggle to make ends meet[1]. This problem disproportionately affects students of color and first-generation students[2]. When charged with the task of having to pay for their education, housing and living expenses, including food, students often sacrifice one for the other. Barriers to food security include time constraints and lack of transportation[3]. Rising housing, tuition and food costs paired with stagnant wages and time constraints make it particularly difficult for those pursuing higher education with little outside financial support to maintain stable living conditions.

As a serious threat to educational attainment and degree completion, universities should be concerned about food insecurity as a relevant student welfare issue.


Many universities, including OU, have established on- and off-campus food pantries to help address the problem of food insecurity among their students. Pantries provide supplemental food supplies to students in need.

Some universities host seasonal farmers’ markets to provide access to fresh food on campus and to promote sustainable food practices.

Another initiative that some universities have implemented is a points donation program in which students can donate their unused meal points to be given to students in need.

Sara Goldrick-Rab of The Wisconsin Hope Lab, a think-tank that researches college affordability, mentions that college should be made affordable for the “massive numbers of people who want to go.” As society assisted the diets of school children so too perhaps it should assist those who seek higher education[4]. Delving more deeply into and addressing this problem will be better for students, but will also have benefits for our whole society.


The OU Food Pantry is located at 113 Elm Street in Stubbman Village. The pantry is open to faculty, staff and students in need. A valid OU ID is required. For more information, visit

For more information on dietary guidelines, visit

[1] Cady, Claire, James Dubick, Brandon Mathews (2016), Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students

[2] Gaines, Alisha, Clifford A. Robb, Linda L. Knol, and Stephanie Sickler. 2014. Examining the Role of Financial Factors, Resources and Skills in Predicting Food Security Status among College Students. International Journal of Consumer Studies 38: 374–84.

[3] Broton, Katharine, Goldrick-Rab, S. (2016). The Dark Side of College (Un)Affordability: Food and Housing Insecurity in Higher Insecurity in Higher Education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 48 (01), 16-25

[4] Pollard, Amy (2018, July 31) Hunger on College Campus Has Some Students Relying on Food Pantries and Donated Meals


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