College Students and Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is unfortunately common on U.S. college campuses.  A survey conducted in 2018 by the Hope Center for College of over 38,000 college students found that 38% of college students attending a four-year institution reported being food insecure.1 According to the 2020 National College Health Assessment , approximately 2 out of 5 of MSU students reported experiencing some level of food insecurity with 24% of students reporting Low Food Security and 15% of MSU students reporting Very Low Food Security.2

Why is food insecurity so high among college students?

  • The high cost of housing and tuition can make it difficult for students to afford food.
  • Federal student loans and financial aid have not kept up with increasing college tuition and other expenses.
  • More students from lower-income families are attending college.
  • It has become harder to pay for college by working while in school.
  • Some students may not have the support they need to learn money management, grocery shopping, and cooking skills.

Food insecurity is a serious problem that can impact academic success. Several studies have shown significant associations between food insecurity and:

  • Grade point average (GPA) 3-9
  • Graduation rates 9,10
  • Depression and stress 11,12
  • Sleep quality 13
  • Consumption of fruits and vegetables.11, 14
  • Physical activity levels 13,15
  • Overall Health 15, 16


  1. Goldrick-Rab S, Baker-Smith C, Coca V, Looker E, Williams T. College and university basic needs insecurity: a national #realcollege survey report. :53.
  2. The state of spartan health: The 2020 NCHA survey of MSU, Table 9 /_assets/pdfs/data/msu_ncha_2020_presentation_powerpoint.pdf. Accessed October 1, 2021.
  3.  Camelo K. Predictors of food insecurity and their relationship to academic achievement of college students. Published 2017. Accessed September 10, 2019
  4.  Maroto M. Food insecurity among community college students: prevalence and relationship to gpa. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2013;45 ( 4, Supplement): S35. Doi:10.1016/j.neb.2013.04.095
  5.  Morris LM, Smith S, Davis J, Null DB. The prevalence of food security and insecurity among Illinois university students. J Nurt Educ Behav. 2016;(6): 376-382.e1. doi:10.1016/j.neb.03.013
  6.  Buch K, Langley S, Johnson T, Coleman N. A university-community partnership to combat food insecurity among college students. Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement. 2016;7(1):16-26.
  7. Patton-López MM, López-Cevallos DF, Cancel-Tirado DI, Vazquez L. Prevalence and correlates of food insecurity among students attending a midsize rural university in Oregon. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2014;46(3):209-214. doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2013.10.007
  8.  Wooten R, Spence M, Colby S, Anderson Steeves E. Assessing food insecurity prevalence and associated factors among college students enrolled in a university in the Southeast USA. Public Health Nutr. Published online December 21, 2018:1-8. doi:10.1017/S1368980018003531
  9.  Raskind IG, Haardörfer R, Berg CJ. Food insecurity, psychosocial health and academic performance among college and university students in Georgia, USA. Public Health Nutr. 2019;22(3):476-485. doi:10.1017/S1368980018003439
  10.  Wolfson JA, Insolera N, Cohen A, Leung CW. The effect of food insecurity during college on graduation and type of degree attained: evidence from a nationally representative longitudinal survey [published online ahead of print, 2021 Jul 29]. Public Health Nutr. 2021;1-9. doi:10.1017/S1368980021003104
  11.  Reeder N, Tapanee P, Persell A, Tolar-Peterson T. Food Insecurity, Depression, and Race: Correlations Observed Among College Students at a University in the Southeastern United States. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(21):8268. Published 2020 Nov 9. doi:10.3390/ijerph17218268
  12.  El Zein A, Shelnutt KP, Colby S, et al. Prevalence and correlates of food insecurity among U.S. college students: a multi-institutional study. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):660. Published 2019 May 29. doi:10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6
  13.  Martinez SM, Grandner MA, Nazmi A, Canedo ER, Ritchie LD. Pathways from food insecurity to health outcomes among California university students. Nutrients. 2019;11(6). doi:10.3390/nu11061419
  14.  Mirabitur E, Peterson KE, Rathz C, Matlen S, Kasper N. Predictors of college-student food security and fruit and vegetable intake differ by housing type. J Am Coll Health. 2016;64(7):555-564. doi:10.1080/07448481.2016.1192543
  15.  Bruening M, Brennhofer S, van Woerden I, Todd M, Laska M. Factors related to the high rates of food insecurity among diverse, urban college freshmen. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(9):1450-1457. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.04.004
  16. Darling KE, Fahrenkamp AJ, Wilson SM, D’Auria AL, Sato AF. Physical and mental health outcomes associated with prior food insecurity among young adults. J Health Psychol. 2017;22(5):572-581. doi:10.1177/1359105315609087