The low-nutrition poverty trap

The cost of food has risen by about 20% in the UK since 2007. This means that for households on low incomes, many families have to make the choice between paying their rent or heating bills and being able to put a meal on the table.

As a result, food banks have seen a surge in demand. One of the largest UK providers, The Trussell Trust, gave out over 1.1 million food parcels in 2015-16, an increase of over 300% from 2012-2013.

Most food banks operate from donations from members of the public at collection points in schools, supermarkets and churches. Care professionals issue people in crisis with a foodbank voucher, which entitles them to receive three days’ worth of food.

The food parcels are designed to be nutritionally-balanced, but due to the pressures of storage, they contain tinned fruit and vegetables, but no fresh produce.

In the US last year, it was announced that some food banks would start to work with healthcare providers to offer “prescriptions” for fresh fruit and vegetables in a move that would promote food as medicine and support the health problems often prevalent in food bank users.

Dr Hilary Seligman, senior medical adviser for Feeding America, said: “The nutritious foods that are expensive for our clients are also expensive for food banks. We are figuring out how we can do this and do it better.” Some US food banks have even started to ban donations of particular foods including fizzy drinks and sweets.

In the UK, smaller charities such as FoodCycle and FareShare have a similar ethos – offering a healthy diet to those in need, while reducing food waste at the same time. FoodCycle collects excess fresh food from retailers and manufacturers and turns it into healthy, free vegetarian meals that are served in community settings for those who need it. FareShare redistributes surplus fruit, vegetables and meat from restaurants and shops to around 1,000 UK charities.

So next time you drop a donation into a food bank collection point, think about what you’re offering. Swapping a box of sugary cereal for something more nutritious can not only help someone out of hunger, but improve their health too.