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Student food insecurity


The Guelph Lab is working with a range of partners locally and nationally to address food insecurity amongst university students. 


“food insecurity is the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so” 

- Health Canada

The City and University have the opportunity to be in at the forefront of campuses and communities responding to food insecurity. The community has set ambitious goals to improve food access, and the Lab’s research has helped identify the thousands of students who live, work and study in Guelph as one of the populations at risk locally. 


The Lab is now part of the local and national response, including:


Read this blog post for more information about our work. 

The Problem

There is growing evidence significant numbers of students attending our universities are food insecure. A number of recent studies suggest between 30 and 45% of all students experience some form of food insecurity, and between 8 and 15% experience severe food insecurity. The Guelph Lab led research at U of G, and for further examples see the “ADDRESSING FOOD INSECURITY AT UBC” report to the UBC board 2019; Blundell et al. 2019 (Memorial); Silverthorn, D. 2016 (Brock, UCalgary, Dalhousie, Lakehead, Ryerson); Reynolds et al. 2018 (St. Francis Xavier); Olauson et al. 2018 (U Saskatoon); as well as recent surveying at McMaster due to be published soon. 


​Strong connections exist between food insecurity and risk of chronic disease and poor mental health and students experiencing food insecurity are more likely than food-secure students to: have a low grade point average (Maroto et al. 2014); reduce course load or drop out (Gallegos et al. 2013); have difficulty concentrating (Munro et al. 2013); struggle accessing adequate fruits and vegetables (Gallegos et al. 2013); and, rate their general health as fair or poor (Hughes et al. 2011).


Faced with the complex underlying causes of food insecurity – income, tuition costs, living costs, access to good food and food deserts, food and financial literacy, financial aid – Universities are grappling with how best to support their students. 


The Guelph Lab began working on this challenge in 2018 after we were approached by Meal Exchange (MX), a national student food organization. MX had already conducted research on five Canadian campuses, and found that nearly two in five students experienced some form of food insecurity. We began by co-facilitating workshops with Meal Exchange at Lakehead University. Since then, we have worked with a number of partners, including: 

  • The Arrell Food Institute 

  • Student Affairs, University Guelph 

  • Universities Fighting World Hunger

  • Dr. Laura Forbes, Dr. Phil Loring

  • UBC, UOttawa, McMaster 

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