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Pandemic threatens food security for many college students

Pandemic threatens food security for many college students

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More college students are uncertain about whether they will have enough to eat. Lakshmiprasad S/EyeEm via Getty Images

When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn’t rank very high.

Just 14% of the presidents listed food or housing insecurity among their top five concerns.

Granted, these academic leaders had plenty of other things to worry about. Some 86% said they were worried about fall enrollment – a concern that has shown itself to be a legitimate one, especially in light of the fact that low-income students have been dropping out of college at what one headline described as “alarming rates.”

As researchers who specialize in the study of food insecurity, we see the dropout rate as being related to a host of underlying issues. And not having enough to eat is one of them.

Data support this view. The signs of this growing problem - known as food insecurity – began to emerge when the COVID-19 epidemic was beginning to take its toll.

One spring 2020 report found that 38% of students at four-year universities were food-insecure in the previous 30 days. That was up 5 percentage points from 33% in the fall of 2019.

College students, clearly, warrant special attention as a group. These rates of food insecurity are more than three times the rate of that in all U.S. households, which was estimated to be 10.5% in 2019.

Historically, estimates of food insecurity among college students have ranged from 10% to 75%, according to 50 studies from U.S. academic institutions carried out from 2009 to before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters

This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.

When students don’t really know if they’ll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect academic performance and sleep quality. It can also lead to poor mental and physical health outcomes for college students.

Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is not enough food or the variety or quality of what someone eats is low.

Campus food pantries

Previous strategies by colleges and universities to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.

These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly three in five students said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.

College food pantries saw big increases in demand. Others said they were getting less donated food. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.

Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with greater demand than they are able to meet during the pandemic.

The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.

Federal help

Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the college SNAP rule, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.

Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.

Decreased reliance on parental financial support is especially common for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up 45% of enrolled college students.

Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.

Two-thirds of the students who were employed before the pandemic said that job insecurity was a problem for them, according to the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice #RealCollege survey. As the number of jobless young Americans remains elevated, unemployment and underemployment remain a problem.

Jobless students face a potential double threat of less money for food and unemployment benefits cutting off their access to SNAP because the program requires most students to work at least part time.

Attempts have been made at both the federal and state levels to meet the basic food needs of college students. Lawmakers have focused on temporarily suspending eligibility requirements or expanding the criteria for participating in nutrition assistance programs.

Seventeen bills aiming to address food insecurity among college students were introduced to Congress during the 2019-2020 legislative session. However, these proposals failed to gain momentum, and the four COVID-19 stimulus bills to date have not addressed the hunger needs of college students. Notably, some students were ineligible to personally receive a CARES Act stimulus relief payment because they were claimed as dependents by their parents.

Short-term solutions

Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.

Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the College and University Food Bank Alliance provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to reach more students.

Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.

Matthew J. Landry receives funding support from the National Institutes of Health. He is currently a Science Policy Fellow for the American Society for Nutrition. These organizations had no role in this article.

Heather Eicher-Miller receives or has received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Federal Office of Rural Health, the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research, Eli Lilly and Company, and Purdue University. She has served as a consultant to Colletta Consulting, Mead Johnson, the National Dairy Council, the Indiana Dairy Association, and the American Egg Board. She has previously received travel support to present research findings from the Institute of Food Technologists and International Food Information Council. However, these organizations had no role in this article.

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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