Post-secondary students in the Okanagan are among the most food insecure in the country, according to a new study by the University of British Columbia (UBC).
More than 40 per cent of students attending UBC’s Okanagan campus either don’t have enough money to feed themselves properly or are worried they will soon run out of funding.
This is according to a new study completed by the school’s Campus Health VOICE Research Project team, led by Casey Hamilton. Internally, UBC is deep-diving through a newly-launched Food Security Initiative, aiming to more clearly understand food security through consultation with students.
Hamilton and her students regularly tackle varying health issues that impact the well-being of students through community-based research.
One of the biggest speed-bumps affecting students today is food insecurity.
“Just over 40 per cent of students (pre-covid) experience what’s called household food insecurity, and that is consistent with other universities and college’s across Canada,” said Hamilton.
This is leagues higher than the Canadian household food insecurity average, which sits at around 8.4 per cent (2011-2012), according to the Government of Canada.
“I wasn’t shocked, but I was sad…A fire is lit under me to help, to see what I can do to change the system… Poverty and household food insecurity is a national issue – and it’s a systemic issue. So everybody has a role to play,” she said.
More support is needed for those experiencing poverty but still want to pursue an education, said Hamilton.
Some students come from families that don’t have enough to support them through school. But often, those students feel guilty or ashamed asking for help.
Hunger, and a variety of mental health challenges, result from food insecurity, which ultimately results from poverty, low income or minimal family support. This makes life hard for those taking their first steps into adulthood.
“On top of poverty, they’re so stressed out. They’re so busy. Students have so much on their plates… Housing is expensive, tuition, books, food, and then all the other things they have to pay for alongside that,” Hamilton said.
“Being food insecure, which means you’re hungry and don’t have money, is really stressful. You have a hard time focusing, you just feel generally unwell, you’re lethargic, exhausted. On top of that, students have demanding workloads.”
Their study also found that people of colour, Indigenous people, and those with disabilities are even worse off.
The ever-increasing cost of living has also had an adverse effect on food insecurity. For most students, this is a hole they can’t easily climb out of.
Some resources are available to students in the Okanagan – such as The Pantry, a student union-run on-campus food bank. When in desperate need, students can also use the food banks in either Lake Country or Kelowna.
Those who can, are encouraged to donate to students in need.
The university recently launched a meal share program, which provides emergency funding support to students through meal cards. The program allows students to buy food on campus and is funded through public support.
Short-term, this fundraiser will help students in need of immediate support.
Long-term, Hamilton said more needs to change; emergency food banks should be used for exactly that – an emergency.
Hamilton stressed the need to increase funding and support for students in poverty.
“This comes down to different policies that need to be reviewed, or updated or developed to support equity in our population.”
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