North Texas Daily

Transportation services worsening food insecurity on campus

Transportation services worsening food insecurity on campus

Transportation services worsening food insecurity on campus
May 06
16:00 2022

Hunger has run rampant on college campuses across the country. College students experience food insecurity at a higher rate compared to any other food-insecure subgroups. This issue is prevalent, with clear negative effects on students’ academic performance and overall health and well-being. UNT’s students are no exception. 

Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “having limited access to healthy and nutritious food” and is associated with reduced food intake, lack of variety in diet, hunger without eating and financial insecurity. A 2019 study found that an average of nearly 40 percent of college students experience food insecurity, a percentage that had yet to include the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

University Professor Lisa Henry published research on the experiences of hunger and food insecurity in college. It supports the pattern on the prominence of food insecurity across colleges and universities, including the overrepresentation of African American and Hispanic or Latinx students in this issue. This research also highlights other marginalized groups at a higher risk of food insecurity: student-parents, low-income, international, first-generation and LGBTQ+ students.  

The food insecurity experiences of 92 UNT students were found to fit into several categories such as “needing resources to alleviate food insecurity at specific times,” “living in dorms having limited meal plans,” “transportation issues” and “utilizing the food pantry to supplement groceries.”  

Studies have shown that lack of transportation is a major barrier for college students and their access to healthy and nutritious food options. With recent changes to the bus routes implemented by Denton County Transportation Authority, the connection between transportation and food insecurity becomes increasingly important to evaluate. Although the changes were proposed to reduce travel times and provide access to more of the city, it has acted as a disruption in the lives of students and their access to healthy and nutritious food.  

Many students have noted additional negative impacts, ranging from longer waiting times to the complete loss of routes they previously relied on. In a survey posted to Reddit on r/unt, 83 people voted on how these bus route changes impacted them. About 21 percent voted that walking, private vehicles and other forms of transportation are now more necessary, but are not feasible options. Twenty percent voted that grocery stores are less accessible, and 10 percent voted that the nearest stores do not have healthy and affordable food options. The most surprising result from this survey is that no one said they had greater access to healthy food options.  

Given the prevalence of college students suffering from food insecurity, transportation infrastructures should center this issue and solutions to food justice in all its services. These bus route changes may be worsening food insecurity on campus by failing to adequately address access to healthy and affordable food options. The health and well-being of students are dependent on their lived experiences being taken into consideration in changes such as this.  

Transportation is a major determinant of the food choices that college students make. Since most students lack access to a private vehicle and struggle with time constraints and academic demands, improvements in walkability and city bus systems are of particular importance when it comes to providing students quality food options. Creating a more reliable system that ensures these changes do not disrupt student mobility and access to necessities should be prioritized, as well as improving the efficiency of the GoZone service and implementing transportation routes that stop near affordable grocery stores and food banks.   

City planners and organization leaders have a responsibility to fill this gap between the loss of transportation and the loss of food access. There is hope from our own urban policy and planning students as they have been active in exploring food injustice and ensuring that voices are a part of the planning process. Dr. Lauren Ames Fischer’s Healthy Infrastructure Learning Lab, the university’s urban planning faculty, works with student researchers and community groups on transportation equity, planning outcomes for historically marginalized groups in North Texas and beyond.

Too many students have been forced to sacrifice their mental and physical health in pursuit of a degree. Access to healthy and nutritious food is a right that college students should be guaranteed, and transportation services play a major role in helping us get there.  

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas  

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Vanessa Delgado

Vanessa Delgado

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