When Friedman Student Alana Davidson had the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), she bridged her passions for food and social justice into a study highlighting the Food insecurity prevalence among university students in New Hampshire.
“I grew up wanting to be a baker, but when I realized I’d have to wake up at 3am. to bake scones every day, my love for food turned into wanting to make sure everyone has access to it,” Davidson said.
25% of participants reported food insecurity within the past year, with first generation students and students receiving financial aid having a greater risk of food insecurity.
When she began the research back in 2014, there was no national data on food security among college students, and only three peer-reviewed articles published on the topic. In order to address these gaps, Davidson’s study utilized an online questionnaire that combined the US Department of Agriculture 6-Item Short Form US Household Food Security Survey with demographic and food assistance use questions, to examine food insecurity and its associated factors among students at UNH. Findings revealed that 25% of participants reported food insecurity within the past year, with first generation students and students receiving financial aid having a greater risk of food insecurity. Additionally, 11.6% of students reported being hungry but not eating because there was not enough money for food.
“Food insecurity is a problem for students at UNH and college students across the country, that’s unacceptable.”
Davidson emphasized one primary takeaway from the research; “food insecurity is a problem for students at UNH and college students across the country, that’s unacceptable.” She also noted that the study found a large number of students (42.4%) who did not know if they qualified for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Shifting the conversation from problems to solutions, Davidson highlighted the need for education and awareness of food resources on college campuses such as local food pantries, SNAP eligibility, and meal donation programs like Swipe it Forward.
After four years and countless presentations at research conferences, Davidson’s final article was published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. She began her yearlong search to find the right outlet by reviewing both the focus and the impact value of each Journal. Once she found the right fit, her article was accepted without revisions and released within a few months. Despite this long process, “I wanted to make sure I got published to help build a national database of research on college student food insecurity,” she said.
Davidson became extremely motivated by her research on food insecurity to further her education on food policy and advocacy. When the time came to apply to grad school, “I only applied to Friedman and one other school. I knew Friedman was the best place to further my education in nutrition and policy,” she said. Now a second year student in the Food and Nutrition Policy and Programs, program, Davidson has gotten involved on-campus as a founding member of the Friedman Food Policy Action Council; a student group working to advance evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies in support of public and environmental health. She also pursued a summer internship with the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance; where she now is employed part-time with the SNAP outreach and policy units, working on special initiatives to increase SNAP access to college students and veterans.
“There’s still millions of Americans every day who are food insecure, so we need to talk about food security in a broader context and push for bolder more progressive initiatives. I think we get to a place where everyone has access to healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food as a basic human right!”
Despite the prevalence of food insecurity among college students and across the nation, Davidson retains a positive outlook. “There’s still millions of Americans every day who are food insecure, so we need to talk about food security in a broader context and push for bolder more progressive initiatives. I think we get to a place where everyone has access to healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food as a basic human right!” She said emphatically. By offering consulting services to colleges and universities, as well as policy makers at the state and national levels, she is working to ensure that leaders in higher education and policy are equipped with strategies to address food insecurity from a variety of angles. Driven to continue amplifying conversations about food security in the public sector, Davidson encourages her fellow students to consider a career in public service. “More Friedman students can and should run for office. We need people at the table who are concerned about nutrition and hunger.”
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