A history professor recently tackled complaints on campus from supposedly starving students by debunking a study claiming that nearly half of students were going hungry at college.
Peter Conclanis, a history professor at the University of North Carolina, published on May 11 a rebuttal in City Journal to an October 2016 “Hunger on Campus” survey and a December 2016 CNN story suggesting that 48 percent of students at American universities suffer from “food insecurity.”
Conclanis noted that this figure is higher than the level of “food insecurity” experienced by inhabitants of countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The survey, conducted by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness (NSCAHH), uses a much broader definition of “food insecurity” than does the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to the professor.
The USDA reports that 12.7 percent of Americans suffer from food insecurity, a figure nearly four times lower than the corresponding stat obtained by the NSCAHH for college students. The World Food Programme reports that 24 percent and 26 percent of citizens in Mozambique and Zimbabwe suffer from food insecurity, respectively.
Conclanis reasons that this is because the “Hunger on Campus” survey asked students questions like whether they were “worried whether [their] food would run out before [they] got money to buy more,” if they “couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals,” and if “the food that [they] bought just didn’t last, and [they] didn’t have money to get more.”
Under the headline, “There’s a hunger problem on America’s college campuses,” CNN reported that 56 percent of the students who reported feeling food insecurity were employed and over half received federal funding.
The professor also states that NSCAHH used a convenience sample obtained through face-to-face interaction with respondents and that the results are “not directly generalizable to the U.S. student population at large.”
While also obtained by an interest group, Conclanis reports that the 12.2 percent figure of students suffering from food insecurity, as reported by the Community College Equity Assessment Lab, is more reasonable, as it uses national random sampling.
“Our study was too small and specific to make any claims about food insecurity among students in general,” said James Dubick of NSCAHH, to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We concluded that our findings were cause for concern and urged others to conduct more extensive research to explore the true scale of food insecurity.”
“By exaggerating the problem of food-security on campus, ill-conceived and statistically flawed studies such as this one actually impede attempts to address the real problem,” explained Conclanis to TheDCNF. “A significant number of students in tertiary education are in fact ‘food-insecure,’ especially students in community colleges in economically challenged areas.”
“But by promoting an implausible research ‘finding’ that almost half of US college students are food-insecure,” Conclanis said, “the authors of this study bring the whole campus ‘food insecurity’ issue into question.”
TheDCNF reached out to CNN for comment, but received none in time for publication.
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