When we think of food insecurity, we think of households less able to cope with poverty and hunger. However, unexpectedly, food insecurity seems to be emerging among young college students according to recent studies.
For most college students, eating problems stem from having access to too much food (however unhealthy it may be). This situation — of starvation among plenty — is the opposite of a common phenomenon called ‘freshman 15’, used to describe how college students are more likely to gain weight, averaging about 15 pounds, in their freshman year.
College offers many temptations. Students are usually on their own, free to eat what they want, when they want. They are thus likely to pile on large portions of food, eat french fries and ice-creams for meals and indulge in sugary and salty snacks to fuel late night sessions. In addition to this, they may not get enough exercise.
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Paradoxically, it appears in a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior that 59% of college students at a university in Oregon were classified as food insecure at some point of the last school year. The figure is a whopping four times higher than the figure for American households (14.5%) as reported in a 2012 USDA study.
The study effectively proves that students were not able to eat nutritious and safe food consistently.
Research on college students’ eating patterns suggests that a higher-than-expected percentage of them might not be eating enough because they can’t afford it. While similar studies for India are not available, it is unlikely that the situation is any different here. Worse still, in India, the hygiene and safety of the food can often be questionable. This leads many to opt for unhealthy high-calorie food outside of college, which may leave calorie and nutrition gaps.
These poor food choices during college years can often lead to problems such as lowered immunity, hormonal imbalance, frequent bouts of cold and cough, digestive problems, skin and hair problems and even depression. Research also suggests that girls may develop menstrual disturbances due to erratic eating patterns during this phase of life.
It’s time our education institutions take note of these issues. Food security along with a safe, healthy food environment is the right of every child and foundation for a healthy youth and a healthy nation.
Ishi khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”