This piece written by Alex Montgomery takes a close look at student food insecurity and the action needed to help tackle it.
By Alex Montgomery, based on his dissertation for Sustainable Development in Practice MSs.
As the cost-of-living crisis continues to affect people across the UK, a recent study has bought to light the extent of student food insecurity. The Food Foundation reported a decrease in fresh food consumption of 7.5% last year, with diets consisting of increasingly unhealthy ultra-processed food (The Grocer, 2022). This blog post examines the findings of a dissertation study conducted at UWE Bristol, shedding light on students' lived experiences. By delving into the results, we uncover the impacts of food inflation on student food security, explore student coping strategies, and emphasise the need for action.
Social stigma and reluctance to discuss food insecurity led to feelings of hopelessness. This hinders research and aid, leaving those affected feeling unsupported. Research suggests that reported incidences of food insecurity could be higher than estimated, and this study hopes to start a conversation.
University is a time for personal and academic growth. Yet, the cost-of-living crisis and associated food insecurity pose significant obstacles for students. Increases in average monthly spending of £100 saw students working 200% of the recommended 12 hours of employment per week. This research highlighted the detrimental effects of food insecurity on physical and mental well-being. This hinders students' ability to study and fully engage in their education.
Surprisingly, apart from research conducted by Defeyter et al. (2020), there have been no other UK-based studies on food insecurity and student well-being. However, the link is evident. Further work is needed to provide informed support and targeted communications for students facing food insecurity.
Interim findings published by the Food Standard Agency (2023) reveal a concerning 44% prevalence of food insecurity among UK higher education students. This highlights the pressing need for collaboration between universities and students to improve food security. Access to nutritious, sustainable, and culturally appropriate food should be a priority for all stakeholders. A national study employing qualitative or mixed methods could raise awareness, encourage open discussions, and inform effective interventions.
While affordability remains a key issue for students, cooking skills also play a role in accessing healthier diets. However, more than the ability to cook is required. Students expressed the desire for food education as part of their degree and through social media. Investing in comprehensive food education, from growing to cooking, can empower students to eat better to improve the health of people and planet.
While grassroots interventions can help to alleviate the problem, these are merely plasters on the problem and do not address the root cause. While the top 10% of households hold 43% of wealth in the UK, the bottom 10% hold just 9%. 258,000 Brits became millionaires last year, but food inflation of 19.1% has pushed 9.3 million adults into food insecurity (The Guardian, 2022).
Food inflation and its impact on student food security require urgent attention. This study sheds light on the struggles faced by students, emphasising the need for further research and collaboration. This blog post calls for immediate action to improve access to nutritious, affordable, and ethical food for all. By fostering better relationships with food, we can ensure a brighter future for our country and address the pressing issue of food insecurity in society.
For more info follow, you can follow Alex, aka ‘50 Ways to Cook’ on Instagram, or head to his website: https://www.50waystocook.com/
We are pleased to say that this academic year, The Students' Union at UWE have been providing students and staff with cost-of-living support, including weekly free hot meals on each campus site and free tea and coffee, we hope to continue this from September, you can read more about the support we've offered here: https://www.thestudentsunion.co.uk/getinvolved/campaigns/costoflivingsupport/.
Defeyter, G. et al., 2020. Food Insecurity and Lived Experiences of Students, London, UK
FSA, 2023. Food behaviours in the UK student population
The Grocer, 2022. Vegetable consumption falls 7.5% in response to cost of living crisis
The Guardian, 2022. Richest 1% of UK households are worth at least £3.6m each