By Jessica Roth, WSU Tri-Cities
RICHLAND, Wash. – WSU Tri-Cities recently launched an initiative to combat the growing need for food availability and improve population health and wellbeing on campus.
“For students in particular, we know that academic performance can be affected by not having enough food to eat, having poor nutrition and trying to feed a family,” said Debbie Conner, director of WSU Tri-Cities health and wellness.
In 2016, a campus financial survey revealed that 33 percent of students at WSU Tri-Cities experienced financial difficulty. Many students in the WSU Tri-Cities 2017 fall class also met high-risk factors for food insecurity, according to the survey. As a result, Conner developed the Personal Food Security and Wellness Project.
The program aims to deepen the understanding of food insecurity among students, faculty and staff and mobilize efforts to ensure the campus community is food secure. A grant from The National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic Communities will help the project get off the ground.
Through the WSU Tri-Cities project, campus personnel will conduct a food security survey, expand the existing food bank and community garden, provide campus wellness education and develop community educational partnerships to improve food security and educate about related applicable life skills. Utilization rates for the basic food bank on campus over the past two years included 350 requests for food. The project is estimated to serve more than 500 people during its first 12-month period.
Conner said food insecurity is correlated with decreased attendance, lower grades, lower test scores, lower reading skills and decreased study skills. Students who struggle with accessing food are more likely to miss school or discontinue their education entirely, she said.
“For a growing campus like WSU Tri-Cities, we really want to know about the prevalence of food insecurity and how we can improve the wellness and life skills for our campus community,” Conner said. “This project will increase the access and knowledge students have regarding healthy food consumption and will reduce their reliance on fast food.”