The Missouri Council for Activity and Nutrition (MOCAN) collected information about food insecurity and nutrition program utilization among students at 2 and 4-year colleges in Missouri. The results of this work are informing the ways that campuses, campus pantries, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Outreach and SNAP Education are working together to improve the support network for students.
There is a misperception that students who are enrolled in higher education are affluent. Approximately one third of students enrolled in 2 or 4-year colleges reported having low or very low food security, according to national data (PDF, 10.2MB). Many students may not be aware of SNAP and other resources that are available to them, or how programs such as SNAP-Ed can help them learn to plan and prepare healthy meals on a limited budget.
The Missouri Council for Activity and Nutrition (MOCAN) is addressing the issue of nutrition security among college students through its Food Systems Work Group. MOCAN is a partnership organization that supports physical activity and nutrition statewide and at the regional level in Missouri. MOCAN serves as the SNAP-Ed Nutrition Network and as the State Nutrition Action Council (SNAC) through implementation of the MOCAN Strategic Plan. Over 350 professionals representing more than 100 organizations are members of MOCAN.
MOCAN members received funding from the Fahs-Beck Foundation of the New York Community Trust and from the Missouri Foundation for Health, to better understand perceptions about SNAP utilization among students. They conducted surveys and focus groups with students at 2 and 4-year public and private institutions, historically Black colleges and universities, and tech school institutions in Missouri. They also interviewed and surveyed college administrators and SNAP-Ed nutrition educators to better understand working with this student audience.
Preliminary results of this work were presented at the April 2023 MOCAN quarterly conference. Data indicated that food insecurity rates in this sample were higher than the national average, with 45% of student respondents reporting food insecurity. Results also indicated that those who worked with students underestimated the prevalence of food insecurity. Most students and administrators were not confident about how to access SNAP resources, and students were also concerned about the possible stigma of applying for benefits.
Work by the MOCAN Food Systems Work Group has already been influential in addressing nutrition security among students in Missouri. In addition to presenting findings at the statewide conference, information from this work has been folded into proposed SNAP Outreach activities in Missouri for FY24. Discussion around these issues sparked larger conversations about nutrition security on college campuses. Collaboration with student services personnel and campus pantries is helping students to receive benefits and to participate in SNAP-Ed. Together, these efforts result in a stronger support network for students and are an example of what a strong multi-sector partnership can accomplish.