Food security exists on a spectrum and has defined many ways. However, for our purposes, food security will be defined as a measure of the access to a sufficient quantity and variety of quality and desirable food options to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Individuals that are food insecure are those at the end of the spectrum where there may be a lack of access to sufficient quality and quantity of foods to meet their specific needs to live a healthy and active lifestyle (Broton and Goldrick-Rab, 2018). It is typically this end of the spectrum that food pantries aim to serve to alleviate many of the negative impacts that come from experiencing food insecurity. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), very low food security is a state where individuals report multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns such as missing meals (2019). The USDA defines low food security as a state where the quality, variety, and desirability of food intake is negatively impacted but there are very few instances of disrupted eating patterns (2019).
Students attending colleges and universities are not immune from experiencing food insecurity. In fact, a 2019 report from the Hope Center estimated that 42% of students at 4-year institutions and 47% of students at two-year institutions are impacted by food insecurity.
There is no lack of research that demonstrates the negative impacts food insecurity can have on college students. Experiencing food insecurity can lead to a myriad barriers for college students, including, but not limited to, being distracted in class, poor mental health, dropping a class or discontinuing one’s education entirely, and lower grades (Rule and Jack, 2019). Some studies have shown that student GPA and university retention may be improved in universities takes steps to address food insecurity on their campus (Woerden, Hruschka, and Bruening, 2018).