Food Insecurity: Ohio State students not only research the problem, but find ways to solve it
The food drive is a college staple. On the Ohio State Lima campus, drives are held annually for veterans, children, families, even pets. Recent studies, however, show that maybe the drives should include the same college students who are working hard to provide for the community.
“Students face enough barriers to education,” said Charlene D. Gilbert, dean and director at Ohio State Lima. “Hunger should not be one of them. Research both on the Lima campus and nationally is showing us that we need to step up our efforts to make sure all of us have access to affordable, nutritious food.”
Undergraduate researchers Megan Azzarello and Bekka Forster worked with Dr. John R. Snyder, health and rehabilitation sciences professor, and Dr. Kamesh Casukhela, senior lecturer in mathematics, to assess the prevalence of food insecurity among students at Ohio State Lima. A convenience sample of 102 students completed the survey, representing 10.5 percent of the student population at the time.
The results showed that 61.8 percent of the students were food insecure. Of those, 35.8 percent had very low security, or food insecurity with hunger; and 26.5 percent had low food security, or food insecurity without hunger.
While the Lima study had limitations in that it was self-reported data that lacked balanced representation across several variables, it is a good first step in exploring the issue of food insecurity on campus.
This study continues a focus on barriers to healthy eating in our community.
“Allen County has 12 identified food desert census tracts affecting more than 29,000 residents,” Dr. Snyder said. “A food desert is defined as a census tract with a substantial amount of residents who live in low-income areas and have limited access to a grocery store. Earlier student-engaged research has focused on consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in Allen County and the impact of a Mobile Produce Market on fresh produce consumption by citizens residing in food deserts.”
With support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students are currently helping gather data to evaluate if corner stores in food deserts, converted to offer fresh fruits and vegetables, enables residents to improve their diet.
The insecurity on campus reflects broader trends among college students across the country.
A 2016 study showed that 48 percent of students surveyed had experienced food insecurity in the past month. Using the same designations as the Lima study, 22 percent reported very low levels of food security, which qualifies them as hungry.
One finding from the national study hits particularly close to home for a large group of Ohio State Lima students. More than half of all the first-generation students surveyed, 56 percent, were food insecure, compared to 45 percent of students who were not first generation. Among Ohio State Lima’s first year students, 42 percent are first generation.
The study surveyed 3,765 students at 26 four-year colleges or universities and eight community colleges in 12 states between March and May 2016 about their access to food. The study was a partnership of four organizations: the College and University Food Bank Alliance, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the Student Government Resource Center and the Student Public Interest Research Groups.
Ohio State Lima has been part of the community efforts to address food insecurity and deserts in Allen County. In addition to the ubiquitous drives, faculty, staff and students serve on a variety of social service boards and volunteer time with food banks and other agencies. When the Mobile Food Pantry was in operation, the University lobbied to be a stop and made heavy use of the low-cost, healthy fare.
At the start of 2017, Ohio State Lima will open the Lima Campus Food Pantry, funded largely by an anonymous donor who recognized the need among college students. It will be part of the West Ohio Food Bank family.
The new food bank will take monetary donations and donations of nonperishable items. Plans are in place to open the Lima Campus Food Pantry in January 2017. Students will be able to access the food bank from its new home behind the Galvin Commons. Initial hours will be from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., most Thursdays and Fridays. While it is geared toward Ohio State students, Rhodes State students and others in need in the community are welcome to use the resource.
Update: The Campus Food Pantry will open on at 11 a.m., Fri., Jan. 27, 2017. Students, faculty or staff who want to utilize this free service need only bring an Ohio State or Rhodes State ID and their family size. A campus open house will be held in February.