Background Household food insecurity in contemporary Britain is apparently rampant as manifested by the escalation in numbers of people seeking emergency food aid through food banks. North American Studies indicate a reliance on palatable, energy-dense foods among food pantry users. We are not aware of studies that have scrutinised the energy or nutritional quality of the background diet of British food bank recipients.
The aim of this study was to formally assess household food security and background dietary intake among food bank recipients.
Methods A convenience sample of 112 food bank recipients were recruited between May and August 2014 from three food banks in a northern English industrial city. Information on demographic descriptors, food security status, as well as self-reported height and body weight was recorded by interviewer–administered questionnaire. Dietary and nutrient intake was estimated by a single 24-hour recall, which recorded participants’ food and drink consumption for the previous day. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics.
Results Over half of participants reported skipping meals or reducing portion size, eating less than they thought they should, or feeling hungry but not having food to eat on at least a weekly basis. Recorded energy and nutrient intakes were below Dietary Reference Values for energy (71.2% of men, 89.1% of women), protein (40.9% of men, 54.3% of women), fibre (71.2% of men, 93.5% of women), iron (39.4% of men, 93.5% of women) and calcium (56.1% of men, 69.6% of women). Fat energy exceeded recommendations (65.2% of men, 44.4% of women). Sodium intakes exceeded target values (51.6% of men, 26.1% of women).
Conclusion The level of food insecurity amongst this sample of food bank users was substantial. Food banks users’ diets were inadequate in energy, protein, fibre, calcium and iron content, with excesses of dietary fat and sodium. Women had a relatively poorer diet than men. This conclusion requires corroboration using a longer period of dietary recall and a wider sampling frame. However, the data are indicative of an impoverished diet which may have adverse effects on recipients’ health. Nutrient quality of charitable food may be critical.