The Nutritional Quality of Food Provided from Food Pantries: A Systematic Review of Existing Literature

Published:October 07, 2016DOI:



      In many affluent countries, food-insecure households use food pantries to keep their family fed. The long-term dependence of many users on these programs calls for a systematic review of studies on the nutritional quality of food provided by food pantries.


      The purpose of this systematic review was to summarize the current scientific evidence about the nutritional quality of food bags distributed by food pantries.


      A systematic literature search was conducted in the electronic databases PubMed, PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, and Psychology Behavioral Sciences Collection to identify cross-sectional, cohort, and intervention studies reporting baseline data conducted in high-income countries and published between 1980 and 2015, which reported the nutritional quality of food bags distributed by food pantries. Identified citations were screened in two stages and data were independently extracted by two authors using a predefined data sheet. The quality of included studies was evaluated using criteria of an adapted Ottawa Scale. The systematic review was reported in accordance to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement.


      Applying the two-stage screening, 9 of 1,546 articles were identified for inclusion. Nutritional quality of food bags varied widely between and within studies. Milk products, vitamins A and C, and calcium were provided in particularly low amounts. None of the studies were nationally representative and only a few studies controlled for the household composition of the recipients of food bags.


      Food pantries likely have a strong influence on users’ diets, but the food pantries examined in the selected studies were largely unable to support healthy diets. The distribution of more perishable foods would increase users’ diet quality and may have an immense potential to address malnutrition in vulnerable population groups.


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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 Global Health Science Unit, Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology, and Health Economics Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany.