Higher-priced groceries alter eating habits of college students

OSWEGO, N.Y. — Today, the prices of goods and necessities in the United States have increased because of inflation. New raised costs for food have impacted many people including college students. 

Over the last year, the consumer price index for food has increased by 10.1%, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The consumer price index for fruits and vegetables has changed by 7.2%. In most recent months, the consumer price index has increased by 0.7% from December 2022 to January 2023. 

The increased prices for healthy food such as fruits and vegetables have influenced how often students are able to eat healthy.

Carizmah Schuler, an off-campus student, at SUNY Oswego said how the increasing costs have impacted her eating habits. 

“I would say that because healthy stuff like produce, fruits, and vegetables are so high I eat quick stuff; Monday through Friday I eat something that’s probably not healthy for me,” she said. 

College students also have to budget their money for other necessities like rent, transportation, and toiletries, making it difficult to eat well. 

“It’s just hard, especially for a college student, because I’m paying this stuff out of pocket and, where I work does not pay me enough for the amount of groceries that I have to buy,” Schuler said.

The eating habits that college students possess and practice involve the dimensions of wellness. Professor Amy Bidwell at SUNY Oswego and Wellcoach® Certified Health Coach, said there are many ways students can address this obstacle. 

”It’s expensive to eat really healthy holistic organic foods and so the financial aspect can impact your physical wellness as well. Really looking at food preparation, so buying things in bulk, and freezing things, and then buying healthy fruit at a farmer’s market,” Bidwell said.

Bidwell also suggests buying individual ingredients to create snack bags on your own because it prevents the consumption of extra calories or sugars while also saving money. 

Aside from the financial dimension of wellness, other dimensions include environmental, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, physical, and intellectual. These dimensions also influence one another and impact the eating habits of students. 

“If you’re not sleeping well, you might not eat well which could make you crash during an exam, they’re all interrelated,” Bidwell said.

Factors like weight management are influenced by eating habits and a student’s emotions. Often, students experience stress which can result in eating unhealthy foods. One way that students can improve their physical well-being is by utilizing the fitness centers on campus.

When students are surrounded by peers that do not eat healthy, they may do the same. Students that live off-campus are also closer to fast food restaurants, allowing unhealthy foods to be easy to buy. Students on campus may also turn to ordering fast food off of delivery apps. 

Not all students are educated about what makes food healthy and how to recognize that. Therefore, students do not know always know how to implement good eating habits into their lives. For instance, being able to identify if food has nutritional value or if it is filled with empty calories.

College students also face food insecurity, which limits their access to an adequate amount of food. “Food insecurity is the consistent lack of food to have a healthy life because of your economic situation,” according to Feeding America, a charity that works to end hunger.

In order to help students that experience food insecurity, colleges have implemented food pantries. At SUNY Oswego, SHOP is a resource for students that are in need. The acronym SHOP stands for students helping Oz peers.

SHOP offers students a range of foods like ramen, soups, macaroni and cheese, cereal, pasta, rice, condiments, and more. The pantry also has frozen food which provides students with premade meals that need to be microwaved. These frozen meals often are fully balanced with meat, vegetables, and starch.

During the spring 2022 semester, SHOP was used 610 times and in the fall 2022 semester, there were 733 uses. This year, there have been 214 uses throughout February. When examining the statistics in 3 categories of off-campus, unknown, and on-campus students, 66.7% of users are on-campus students, 19.3% of users are off-campus students, and 14% are unknown. 

The presence of a food pantry on campus offers needed assistance and reassures students that there is aid.

“It’s important to have on campus because it’s a way for students to know that they have support and someone is there to help them,” Asia Dennis, the volunteer manager at SHOP, said.