MAZON Releases New Report on Nutrition in the Charitable Food System
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WASHINGTON, DC (March 27, 2018) – Two specific strategies are helping the nation’s food banks to distribute less unhealthy food, according to a report released by MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. The report, A Tipping Point: Leveraging Opportunities to Improve the Nutritional Quality of Food Bank Inventory, is the latest action in a decade-long effort by MAZON to help the nation’s food banks better meet the dietary needs of the low-income families they serve.
“It is crucial that we continue to reduce the amount of unhealthy food in our nation’s food bank system,” said Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON. “In our current political climate, with drastic changes being proposed to SNAP by both President Trump and Congress, the role of the charitable food system will be even more important in the lives of low-income families nationwide. The tens of millions of Americans who utilize this system need and deserve the same healthy meal options that we all have come to expect.”
Food banks with nutritional requirements can better serve health of clients
As food banks consider ways to increase the ratio of healthy to unhealthy food they distribute, A Tipping Point recommends two effective strategies: adopting a formal nutrition policy, preferably with a ban on the distribution of certain products, and implementing a nutrition tracking system. Survey findings reveal that food banks with formal nutrition policies that include a ban are the only ones who, on average, distribute twice the percentage of fresh fruits and vegetables versus unhealthy beverages and snacks. Similarly, those food banks that utilize a system to track nutritional quality report significantly less unhealthy beverages and snack foods than food banks not using tracking systems.
“Having a formal policy that includes restrictions on distributing foods with minimal nutritional value sends a strong and consistent message to donors, partner agencies, the community, and clients that food banks are prioritizing health and nutrition,” said Marla Feldman, senior program director at MAZON and lead author of A Tipping Point. “But without a robust tracking system in place, food banks cannot effectively evaluate the nutrition of the food in their inventories nor measure their progress toward achieving their nutrition objectives. If the goal is to improve health outcomes for the low-income families who rely on the charitable food system, both strategies are imperative.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40 percent of adults and nearly 20 percent of teenagers are obese – the highest rates ever recorded for the U.S. The CDC also reports that 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. This news is especially troubling for the 41.2 million food-insecure Americans who are at higher risk for obesity and diabetes – the same population who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the charitable food system.
“Studies have shown time and again that people visiting their local food pantry would prefer to receive nutritious foods instead of candy, soda and other unhealthy foods,” said Nancy Roman, president and CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier America, and former president and CEO of Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C. “It is invigorating to see that an increasing number of food banks are prioritizing health and nutrition, which, in turn, can help efforts to decrease childhood obesity.”
Largest percentage of food bank inventory is donated; donors can and will upgrade food donations if asked
The report notes that nearly 60 percent of food bank inventory comes from donations. Food banks have long been concerned that if they request healthier foods and ban unhealthy ones, donors will stop donating or will decrease the amount of food items they give. However, A Tipping Point discovered these fears to be unfounded. More than half of food banks surveyed said they have begun educating local donors about the need for more nutritious foods, with nearly all of those food banks reporting either a positive or neutral response from donors. Education on a larger scale has not been as robust, with only one in five food banks raising this issue with national donors.
MAZON conducted the national food bank survey with assistance from Marlene Schwartz, PhD, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, and the cooperation of Feeding America. In May 2017, CEOs, COOs and nutrition managers from 310 food banks across the United States were invited via email to participate in the survey. The final report compiles results from 196 food banks (63 percent response rate). Read the full report here.
About MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is a leading national advocacy organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. For more information, please visit mazon.org.
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