Campus pantry access directly improves students’ health

While access to food is a national concern, college students experience food insecurity at a rate four times higher than the general population. A research article appeared in Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviorpublished by Elsevier, discusses how students’ use of the on-campus pantry can positively impact their physical and mental health and lead to better sleep.

“In 2015, we found that 40% of UC students were food insecure, a finding that is consistent with other research,” said corresponding author Susana Martinez, MSc and Ph.D., Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA. “This prompted the State of California to allocate funding so that by 2018 all UCSD campuses would have food pantry. Our study was the first to look at the impact of these pantry on changes in student health.”

The researchers conducted an online survey of 1,855 students at 10 UCLA campuses with questions about their general health before and after visiting the pantry. The results showed that pantry access directly improved students’ perceived health, reduced the number of depressive symptoms they experienced, increased their sleep adequacy, and enhanced food security.

Co-author Michael Granner, PhD, MTR, Department of Psychiatry, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA, adds, “More than half of the students in our group reported being first-generation students, and nearly half of whom were Bill Grant recipients. It is possible that these students were already at a disadvantage when funding their basic needs while in college.”

Dr. Martinez concludes, “While UCLA food pantries began as an emergency response to a significant spread of student food security, this study provides evidence that they play a critical role in helping students meet their basic needs on a regular basis.” “Long-term solutions are needed to address student food security.”

Thus, these findings can be used to advocate for state or federal funding to support work required to establish food pantries on university campuses nationwide and to review undergraduate eligibility and access to federal assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

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