The Dietary Quality of Food Pantry Users: A Systematic Review of Existing Literature

Published:October 07, 2016DOI:



      Users of food pantries often have a long history of food insecurity and may be vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. The quality of their diets is not well researched.


      The purpose of this systematic review was to summarize the published evidence about the dietary quality of food pantry users.


      Systematic database searches of PubMed, PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, and Psychology Behavioral Sciences Collection, and hand searches of references were conducted to identify cross-sectional, cohort, and intervention studies reporting baseline data, conducted in high-income countries and published between 1980 and 2015, which reported on the nutritional adequacy of individuals who have used a food pantry at least once in the previous 12 months. All identified citations were screened and independently assessed for eligibility. Results for dietary quality were summarized for overall diet quality, energy, food groups, macro- and micronutrients separately. The risk of bias of included studies was evaluated by using criteria of an adapted Ottawa Scale. The systematic review was reported in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement.


      After applying predefined eligibility criteria, 16 articles were identified for inclusion. The diet quality among included food pantry users was low, as reflected by inadequate mean group intake of energy, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and calcium. Even if the group mean intake was adequate, large percentages of study populations did not meet the recommendations for vitamins A, C, D, and B vitamins, or iron, magnesium, and zinc. The representativeness of the studies varied widely and none of them were nationally representative.


      The current evidence suggests that the dietary intake of most food pantry users does not meet recommendations. Future research should draw more representative samples and investigate the impact of food pantries on users’ diet.


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      A. Simmet is a PhD student, Institute of Clinical Nutrition, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany.


      J. Depa is a PhD student and research associate, Institute of Clinical Nutrition, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany.


      N. Stroebele-Benschop is a full professor, Institute of Clinical Nutrition, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany.


      P. Tinnemann is head of the Global Health Science Unit, Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology, and Health Economics at the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany.