SUNDAY, Oct. 16, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Hunger is a surprisingly common problem among U.S. college students, a new report suggests.

Researchers surveyed nearly 3,800 students at eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges in 12 states. The study revealed that nearly half the students were food insecure and almost one-quarter were hungry. Hunger rates were 25 percent among community college students and 20 percent among those at four-year colleges, the research showed.

Food insecurity was defined by the researchers as the lack of reliable access to sufficient amounts of affordable, nutritious food. Very low levels of food security qualified students as hungry.

Food insecurity was reported by 57 percent of black students, compared with 40 percent of white students. Fifty-six percent of students whose parents didn't attend college were food insecure, compared with 45 percent of students who had at least one parent who attended college, the study authors said.

The report was prepared by a number of campus-based groups, including the University of Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (UConnPIRG), the College and University Food Bank Alliance, and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.

"Hunger is an actual reality for far too many college students," UConnPIRG's Matt Talley said in a news release from the group.

"This problem threatens thousands of students who want to focus on academics but instead are left worrying about where they are going to get their next meal," he said.

Food insecurity was a problem even for students who had jobs, were enrolled in a campus meal plan, or received some form of financial aid, the study found.

"The typical food insecure student in this study is working part-time, receives financial aid, and is reaching out for assistance from aid programs -- and is still struggling to get by," Talley said.

"When we have so many students who are doing everything right but still can't afford food, it means we're failing to provide these students with a viable path to success in their higher education," he added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers resources on college health and safety.