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Despite over a decade of both quantitative and qualitative studies, food insecurity among US college/university students remains a pervasive problem within higher education. The purpose of this perspective piece was to highlight research gaps in the area of college food insecurity and provide rationale for the research community to focus on these gaps going forward. A group of food insecurity researchers from a variety of higher education institutions across the United States identified five thematic areas of research gaps: screening and estimates of food insecurity; longitudinal changes in food insecurity; impact of food insecurity on broader health and academic outcomes; evaluation of impact, sustainability and cost effectiveness of existing programmes and initiatives; and state and federal policies and programmes. Within these thematic areas, nineteen specific research gaps were identified that have limited or no peer-reviewed, published research. These research gaps result in a limited understanding of the magnitude, severity and persistence of college food insecurity, the negative short- and long-term impacts of food insecurity on health, academic performance and overall college experience, and effective solutions and policies to prevent or meaningfully address food insecurity among college students. Research in these identified priority areas may help accelerate action and interdisciplinary collaboration to alleviate food insecurity among college students and play a critical role in informing the development or refinement of programmes and services that better support college student food security needs.
Food insecurity on college campuses is a major public health problem and has been documented for the last decade. Sufficient food access is a crucial social determinant of health, thus campuses across the country have implemented various programmes, systems and policies to enhance access to food which have included food pantries, campus gardens, farmers’ markets, meal share or voucher programmes, mobile food applications, campus food gleaning, food recovery efforts, meal deliveries and task force/working groups. However, little is understood about how to best address food insecurity and support students who are struggling with basic needs. The impact of food insecurity on students’ academic and social success, in addition to their overall well-being, should be investigated and prioritised at each higher education institution. This is especially true for marginalised students, such as minority or first-generation students, who are at heightened risk for food insecurity. In order to create a culture of health equity, in which most at-risk students are provided resources and opportunities to achieve optimal well-being, higher education institutions must prioritise mitigating food insecurity on the college campus. Higher education institutions could benefit from adopting comprehensive and individualised approaches to promoting food security for marginalised students in order to facilitate equal opportunity for optimal scholastic achievement among students of all socio-demographic backgrounds.
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