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Food pantries play a critical role in combating food insecurity. The objective of the present work was to systematically review and synthesize scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of food pantry-based interventions in the USA.
Keyword/reference search was conducted in PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, Cochrane Library and CINAHL for peer-reviewed articles published until May 2018 that met the following criteria. Setting: food pantry and/or food bank in the USA; study design: randomized controlled trial (RCT) or pre–post study; outcomes: diet-related outcomes (e.g. nutrition knowledge, food choice, food security, diet quality); study subjects: food pantry/bank clients.
Fourteen articles evaluating twelve distinct interventions identified from the keyword/reference search met the eligibility criteria and were included in the review. Five were RCT and the remaining seven were pre–post studies. All studies found that food pantry-based interventions were effective in improving participants’ diet-related outcomes. In particular, the nutrition education interventions and the client-choice intervention enhanced participants’ nutrition knowledge, cooking skills, food security status and fresh produce intake. The food display intervention helped pantry clients select healthier food items. The diabetes management intervention reduced participants’ glycaemic level.
Food pantry-based interventions were found to be effective in improving participants’ diet-related outcomes. Interventions were modest in scale and usually short in follow-up duration. Future studies are warranted to address the challenges of conducting interventions in food pantries, such as shortage in personnel and resources, to ensure intervention sustainability and long-term effectiveness.
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