40% of U of S students face issues around food insecurity, study shows

In order to pay for their studies, many university students in Saskatchewan are skipping meals or going entire days without eating.

Student loan recipients skipping meals to pay for school

Some students said they stray away from more expensive foods, while others said they skip meals altogether. (Shutterstock)

In order to pay for their studies, many university students in this province are cutting costs when it comes to food.

University of Saskatchewan professor Rachel Engler-Stringer recently completed a study looking at food insecurity among students at the University of Saskatchewan.

The study, which was the first of its kind in Canada, surveyed a random sample of 4,500 students from the U of S, with about 30 per cent of the students (1,359) responding to survey questions.

Engler-Stringer found that about 40 per cent of students face some degree of food insecurity.

About 10 per cent who are marginally food insecure worry about money and make cuts to their diet when it comes to food variety and quality. The nearly 30 per cent who are facing moderate and severe food insecurity often skip meals or go entire days without eating, she said.

Students who reported facing food insecurity included:

  • 58 per cent of international students
  • 53 per cent of students who are parents
  • 55 per cent of students who have government student loans as their primary income
  • 64 per cent of Indigenous students

Students most likely to report food insecurity were those who had used student loans, students who are parents, international students and Indigenous students, she said.

"It's what we think of when we think of poverty overall. It's the same groups of students," Engler-Stinger said.

International students pay higher tuition, at two or three times the cost that locals pay. Many come to Canada not knowing the cost of living and don't have the support networks even new immigrants do because they are alone, without their families, Engler-Stringer said.

"With international students, we've got students who often don't have anyone to draw upon when they're struggling," she said.

Finding a solution

The students reported feeling humiliated, anxious and unworthy because of their lack of funds.

They said they work more, borrow more money or avoid buying their textbooks to make ends meet.

Faculty are then faced with having to figure out how their students can access information without purchasing the materials.

"We live in a society now where having some form of post-secondary education, whether that's university or trade school or technical school, it's become a requirement of getting any kind of a decent job," Engler-Stinger said.

. . . I think as a society we have a responsibility to figure out how to make sure that when people want post-secondary education we're not limiting it to people who come from more affluent families.- University of Saskatchewan professor Rachel Engler-Stringer

"Therefore, I think as a society, we have a responsibility to figure out how to make sure that when people want post-secondary education, we're not limiting it to people who come from more affluent families."

Despite the high rate of food insecurity, only one per cent of respondents said they use the campus food bank. Engler-Stinger said they are likely not aware of it or are opposed to taking from charity.

She said the solution lies with cutting costs in other places, with the biggest costs for students being housing and tuition.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated that the survey received about 4,500 responses from students online, sampling around 25 per cent of student body. In fact, the study surveyed a random sample of 4,500 students from the University of Saskatchewan, and about 30 per cent of students (1,359) responded to survey questions.
    Jan 03, 2018 9:56 AM CT

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition