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Food Insecurity in Colleges & How it Impacts Mental Health

Have you ever thought about all the ways food impacts us as humans? It nourishes our gut and fuels our energy, but it also surprisingly impacts our mental health as well. There is a link between food insecurity and mental health, especially in college student populations. Food insecurity–a lack of consistent access to sufficient food to meet one’s basic needs–is a high and growing issue among college students, with around 1 in 3 Pennsylvania college students facing food insecurity during their time in college.

The most common responses when announcing college plans and commitments are, “Congratulations! What are you studying? Remember to study hard, school is the most important. Avoid the party scene.” We often associate college with these things, but forget to factor in other anxieties and issues a new college student might be facing before heading to university. College tuition and living are expensive, and food and meal plans are just one more expense college students have to figure out. Hunger and food insecurity are undeniable struggles a large pool of college students face across all U.S. college campuses. 

Many students rely on financial aid and personal loans in order to attend college because of its large cost. When you track your spending for college–from tuition to textbooks to class materials and other fees, many students are left with little to no money for groceries and everyday meals, which, in turn, affects their mental health and ability to focus on their coursework.

Physical and Psychological Effects of Food Insecure Students

For a student facing food insecurity, a day’s diet might include a morning coffee, skipping lunch while studying for an exam, and a packet of Ramen Noodles for dinner. When this diet is repeated, students might run the risk of physical and mental health problems due to a cyclical pattern of malnutrition. When students are dealing with food insecurity and a lack of proper access to enough food, they start to feel depressed and worrisome. There are higher risks of psychological distress because a student might feel insecure or anxious about their food status when compared to their peers. 

Alleviating food insecurity and hunger problems within college populations might yield more opportunity for better focus and higher grades as well as a decrease in depression and anxiety. Nutrition will improve and we might even see a decrease in dropout rates. 


About JFCS Pittsburgh Youth Services

Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) Pittsburgh is committed to supporting youth and young adults achieve their goals and secure a strong future. For more information about education, workforce development, and mental health support services available, please call JFCS Youth Services at (412) 422-7200 or visit www.jfcspgh.org/youth-services.