Minority Health Matters (MHM) is a club at UConn committed to spreading awareness and educating the general public about health disparities in their community. The overarching goal of MHM is to educate members on important health-related issues in hope that they become advocates for change within the UConn community and beyond.
The most recent MHM general body meeting was focused on food insecurity and discussed why this issue is important and what steps UConn has taken to address the problem of food insecurity on campus.
“Once you are educated about the world around you, you are able to change your actions and the course of things that are regular to you to adapt to what you now know,” Kimora Chambers, a fifth semester women’s, gender and sexuality major and president of MHM, said.
Food insecurity is a prevalent issue in the United States, especially on college campuses. College students are responsible for a lot of expensive endeavors ranging from tuition payments, buying books and other supplies for classes, putting gas in their cars and other cost-related activities. These expenses can add up quickly and leave little room in the budget for food, which can lead to food insecurity.
Being food insecure refers to a state of being without reliable and consistent access to a sufficient amount of affordable, nutritious food. A key word to highlight is nutritious.
Unhealthy foods tend to be cheaper and easier to access and might be the only type of food that some people are able to afford. In urban areas especially, there tends to be more fast food chains and less grocery stores. In addition to this, many people lack education regarding the nutritional value of food.
Geographic areas in which access to affordable, healthy food options are limited is referred to as a food desert. The Food Empowerment Project emphasizes the importance of understanding that this term is closely related to the socio-economic statuses of the residents within the area.
“Where you’re housed determines a lot of different things,” Chambers said. “Grocery stores are not going to always be right there for you to have easy access.”
A study found that white neighborhoods contain an average of four times as many supermarkets as predominantly black neighborhoods do. This shows that food insecurity is influenced by a multitude of factors including race, ethnicity, income and employment status.
On the UConn Storrs campus, 35% of students reported low or very low food security. This statistic is even higher on the UConn satellite campuses, with 67% of Stamford students and 62% of Waterbury students reporting low or very low food security.
“Food insecurity makes everything that much harder,” Chambers said. “Anything that is going to restrict your access to good, quality health is going to have a big impact on how you move throughout the day.”
To address the food insecurity problem on the Storrs campus, UConn has two programs that students can take part in: the USG Food Security Program and the UConn Swipes Program.
The USG Food Security Program is a new initiative created by the Undergraduate Student Government for undergraduate students without a meal plan. Students who are struggling to afford groceries, an issue that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, can apply to receive 30 to 50 dollars per week to help offset their grocery costs.
The UConn Swipes Program aims to provide food insecure students access to healthy and well-balanced meals in the campus dining halls. Both undergraduate and graduate students can participate in this program and can speak with the Dean of Students Office to determine if they are eligible.
Many students are facing increasingly challenging times due to COVID-19. Job loss, less work hours and other difficulties can have a big impact on the amount of food that students can afford to purchase and consume. Being food insecure also forces students to make difficult decisions about how they go about their days and what they choose to spend their money on.
Reducing the stigma surrounding food insecurity is an important step in allowing food insecure students to feel comfortable reaching out for help. MHM is taking positive steps to normalize being in this situation by encouraging food insecure students to use the resources that UConn offers.
“Food insecurity is very hard to pinpoint and recognize. It is also something that is stigmatized,” Chambers said.
Follow Minority Health Matters on Instagram for more information about how food insecurity affects UConn students and for future club meetings and events.