By: Donna Nadeem
In the fall, An’am Sherwani, Asha Smith and Garry Vinayak, three students taking the SUSTAIN 3S03 course, conducted a new study on food insecurity on campus.
The results reveal that 39 per cent of the 204 student respondents have experienced moderate food insecurity and 12 per cent have experienced severe insecurity.
Food insecurity refers to the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.
Meal Exchange is a nonprofit organization that tackles issues such as student food insecurity in Canadian post-secondary institutions.
In 2016, Meal Exchange worked with university campuses including Brock University, the University of Calgary, Dalhousie University, Lakehead University and Ryerson University to survey students using the “Hungry for Knowledge” survey guide and framework.
The objectives of the study were to determine a ‘prevalence estimate’ of students experiencing food insecurity, identify key factors that contribute to student food insecurity and raise awareness about various services that address and help reduce the issue of student food insecurity.
As part of the course, Sherwani, Smith and Vinayak created an online survey for the McMaster student population to collect information about students who are at most risk of food insecurity.
The survey also asked respondents about the various barriers and factors that influence and contribute to the emergence of student food insecurity.
The goal of the project was to use the survey data collection to gain knowledge and a deeper understanding about the social issue of student food insecurity.
The team advertised the survey through social media, posters around campus and class talks. They obtained 204 partial responses and 185 complete responses.
Their findings indicate that 39 percent, or 71, of respondents have experienced ‘moderate’ food insecurity while 12 per cent, or 22 respondents, experienced ‘severe’ food insecurity.
Respondents indicated that their food insecurity was largely the result of factors including financial barriers, having limited time to cook and the lack of healthy and diverse food options on campus.
They also reported that food insecurity impacted their physical health, mental health, social life and grades.
The most common experiences amongst those dealing with food insecurity included relying on low-cost foods, not eating healthy balanced meals, and prioritizing other financial needs before securing adequate food.
The study also suggests that food insecurity also results in skipping meals and sometimes not eating the entire day.
Of those who identified as food insecure, only 24 per cent utilized programs and services at their disposal, such as the McMaster Students Union Food Collective Centre.
Nonetheless, as there is a stigma associated with these services, it is unclear the extent to which respondents underreported their use of them.
After analyzing the results of the survey, the team shared their findings were shared with MSU student clubs and services.
These groups can use the results of the study, particularly the one about students’ use of food services, as a springboard to explore new ways of outreach to McMaster students experiencing food insecurity.
The increased usage of these services and clubs may aid in the reduction of food insecurity at McMaster.
The SUSTAIN 3S03 team has sent their study to a graduate student, who will continue to pursue and examine the research. Further exploration and follow-ups are currently in progress and the study will be continued into 2019.