Health & Fitness: Combat the ‘freshmen 15,’ food insecurity with planning

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By: Rich McLoughlin – Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: Rich McLoughlin is a senior exercise science major whose life experiences have led him to motivate others toward personal fitness. McLoughlin is a certified personal trainer.

Your immediate thought when you hear of food insecurity – especially on a college campus – might be the infamous “freshman 15.” However, a study conducted in 2011 provides other insight.

The study was done at midsized rural Western Oregon State University, located southwest of Portland in Monmouth, Ore. Published this year out of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, the study aimed to examine the prevalence of food insecurity among students.

What it means
Food insecurity was defined as students not having the funds to purchase healthy, quality meals, as stated in the study. It concluded that 59 percent of students experienced food insecurity at some point in the last year.

The study also found a direct correlation between low GPA (3.1 or lower) and food insecurity. The researchers mentioned that this problem might be growing around the country, but that more studies like this one should be done to expand on these findings.

Not being able to afford a well-balanced meal may not be directly affecting you right now, but chances are someone you know on campus feels differently. With rising tuition costs, the expenses of housing on campus, and sometimes high prices of food at the dining halls, malnutrition could be a much more prevalent issue at UD than you think.

Convenience is related to food insecurity
It has been two years since I was on the meal plan, but from what I remember, students were usually split between having a timed meal plan that was restricted or the “Flex” plan, often left students scavenging for food in the last couple weeks of the semester. Upperclassmen who no longer have convenient access to dining halls and the meal plans have resorted to eating out on Brown Street or going to the local grocery store to purchase their own food.

The last two examples are putting a lot of financial burden on students, even if they are working a job or two, not to mention budgeting for the weekends or other important finances.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Whoa! Maybe I am being affected by food insecurity. I am barely getting enough to eat throughout the week.” Here are questions to ask yourself if you are unsure if you are eating well enough: “Do I have enough energy throughout the day? Do my grades slip when I am unable to get a good meal before classes? Do I feel strapped on cash when attempting to purchase my meals? Do I lie awake at night?”

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I hope to offer some advice.

Tips to avoid food insecurity
• Budget out your finances at the beginning of the month.
• Avoid the snack aisles at the grocery store.
• Push a cart instead of carrying a basket at the grocery store (humans subconsciously reward themselves with snacks for carrying a basket).
• Avoid fast-food chains.
• Purchase trail mix, granola snacks, or other items that you could take on your walk to class.
• Stay active and in shape.
• Ask your Student Government Associaton representatives to petition the school to lower food prices.

The study done at the school in Oregon may not represent food insecurity issues for other U.S. college students, but it may become more prevalent as the price of attending college goes up and financial aid begins to dwindle. Universities should make keeping food options affordable and nutritious a bigger priority.

If anything, I hope this article has made you aware of the seriousness of food insecurity. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at mcloughlinr2@udayton.edu.