A new study by University of Arkansas researchers found that found that nearly 30 percent of 10th-12th graders at of Springdale High School experienced moderate to high levels of food insecurity in the past year.
Food insecurity is defined as a reduced availability of, or a limited ability to acquire, nutritionally adequate foods. Research has shown a link between poor diet, weight status (overweight or malnourished) and academic performance.
The study was conducted by U of A professor Kevin Fitzpatrick, director of the Community and Family Institute in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, and Stephanie Collier, a Community and Family Institute research associate. Fitzpatrick and Collier surveyed 1,493 Springdale High School students, asking about social class, how connected they feel to their community, how they pay for lunch, who they would turn to for help if they couldn’t pay for lunch, the types of foods they ate recently, and related questions.
Twenty-five percent of the respondents reported that they’d been hungry at least a few times in the past weeks, 33 percent said they worried that food would run out at home, 19 percent reported that they had not eaten breakfast in the past week, and 45 percent said they had not eaten a green salad in the past week.
Fitzpatrick and Collier also found that students who reported having strong friendships were less likely to have trouble accessing nutritional food, an indicator that relationships and social capital are important in lessening food insecurity. “Understanding the complicated relationships between food, place and social relationships is critical to addressing the national problems of hunger and food insecurity, particularly among low-income, minority subgroups,” Fitzpatrick said.
The findings on food insecurity are in line with statewide figures for Arkansas. Evidence suggests that 30 percent of children under 18 in the state live in food-insecure households.
The study intends to help Springdale teachers, staff and administrators develop programs to address lifestyle and nutrition issues. It makes four general recommendations:
- Continual collection of comprehensive data on health, nutrition and food insecurity
- Expansion of the district’s farm-to-school programs to increase availability of healthy foods
- Establishment of a food bank in each school
- Expansion of health- and nutrition-related educational outreach opportunities.
The work builds on Fitzpatrick’s 2012 study of similar issues among 5th-7th grade students at Owl Creek School in Fayetteville, and his ongoing research into place as a quality of life factor. Fitzpatrick co-edited the book A Place-Based Perspective of Food in Society, published in 2015.