Factors that affect eating behaviors among food pantry clients

HOUSTON -- March 8, 2017 -- While it may seem that the cost of food is the main factor that affects eating behaviors among individuals from low-income families who rely on food pantry services, several other factors also may play a part. In a new study, researchers at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital found that not only were the low-income participants concerned about obesity and other chronic diseases in their families, but they also reported several barriers to eating healthy that influenced their eating behaviors. Their report was recently published in the journal Health Equity.

“While previous studies have shown that food pantry recipients report low food security, poor diets and limited access to other affordable nutritious foods, we don’t know the factors that actually influence poor diets and eating behaviors among these low-income families,” said Dr. Jayna Dave, assistant professor of pediatrics-nutrition at Baylor and first author of the paper.

In this study, Dave and colleagues conducted focus groups and interviews at 10 food pantry sites with food pantry clients between the ages of 21 and 50 years of age. In addition, clients completed questionnaires assessing their food security status, food availability at home, food bank usage and participation in other food assistance programs.

They found that most participants were concerned that obesity and other chronic diseases, including diabetes, were a problem for them and their family members. They wanted to learn about how to prevent and/or manage these health problems.

They also identified several barriers to eating healthy, including:

  • Financial uncertainty
  • Cost of healthy food
  • The need to ration food within the family
  • Lack of time
  • Lack of transportation
  • Lack of adequate kitchen equipment
  • Lack of nutrition knowledge and skills
  • Lack of social support for eating healthy

“These issues along with findings from other studies with low-income populations need to be systematically addressed and incorporated into programs and nutrition education interventions for food pantry clients, and for that matter, individuals from low-income families,” Dave said. “Knowledge about the household’s food-related environment is essential for both the nutrition educators and families themselves. To help low-income families and their children improve their nutritional health one could examine the trigger events in people’s lives that cause them to start using food pantries. Understanding what leads some but not others to use food pantries would allow for appropriate programs and policies to be developed.”

Others who took part in the study include Deborah I. Thompson and Karen W. Cullen with Baylor and the CNRC and Ann Svendsen-Sanchez with the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston.

This project was supported through federal funds awarded by the National Cancer Institute, grant number 1R21CA150977-01/02. It was also funded, in part, by federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Agricultural Research Service under Cooperative Agreement no. 6250-51000-058.

Media Contact 
Jenn Jacome