Sunday, 23 August 2015

Studious Sunday: Are Campus Food Bank Hampers Healthy?

Welcome to another edition of Studious Sundays where we break down an academic study every second week to learn more about diet, farming, the environment and other topics surrounding the food we eat. We know it's hard, if not impossible, to keep up with studies and news about food while leading a busy lifestyle, so we are making it a little bit easier to stay informed and make simple, meaningful changes in your life. This week, we're looking at a study that investigates the relationship between children's video games and computer time with quality of diet. 

The Study: Nutritional Quality and Price of Food Hampers Distributed by a Campus Food Bank: A Canadian Experience, Jessri et al., 2014.

The Breakdown: Food insecurity is the inability of a household or individual to access healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food at all times. Unsurprisingly, post-secondary students, especially those relying on financial aid, are at a high risk to become food insecure. Food banks both on campus and off-campus exist to provide immediate assistance to those experiencing hunger or food insecurity. 

This study investigates the Campus Food Bank (CFB) at the University of Edmonton to determine whether the hampers distributed meet the requirements for a healthy diet. The CFB provides various sizes of hampers for different sizes of households, each which are meant to provide food for four days. All hampers are similar, except eggs are provided for four-person hampers, and only one litre of milk (as opposed to two litres) is provided for hampers for fewer than three people. Hampers for children include peanut butter and yogurt if possible. The main factors that determine the "menus" for hampers are available items from donations, the four-day volume requirement, and cost. 

The study evaluated the contents of five sizes of hampers over three years to determine whether the hampers met daily nutritional guidelines for an adult male, as well as to compare the quality of the hampers that contained perishable and non-perishable food items. The dietary indicators reviewed included total caloric intake, fat, protein, carbohydrate, fibre, as well as vitamins and minerals.

The Results: Data from 1024 unique CFB clients were analysed. 60% of users were female, 40% male, and over 91% were full-time students at the University of Alberta. Both undergraduate and graduate students made frequent use of the CFB, and 7% of users were University of Alberta staff. 

The study found significant positive changes in the hampers provided between 2006 and 2011, with more perishable food items, like fresh vegetables, fruit and milk, being included in hampers of all sizes. 

The dietary quality of the hampers varied based on the size of hamper provided: the single-person hamper provided between 2668-3251 calories per day, but while this per-person caloric value remained the same for two and three-person hampers, it decreased for larger sizes. Hampers for one to three people met the requirements of all four food groups, with an over-supply of grain products once non-perishable items were included. For hampers for four to five individuals, the milk & milk alternative food requirement was not met. 

All hampers were deficient in vitamin A and zinc, and vitamin C and folate were borderline insufficient for hamper recipients. While caloric needs were met from the hampers, the researchers discussed the oversupply of calories from carbohydrates and the lack of dietary fat provided by the hampers, as well as the lack of animal protein. 

While the addition of perishable food items created a significant improvement in hamper quality, they were only available through donations. 

How You Can Make a Change: While our thoughts go from summer vacations to back to school, it's important to remember that food insecurity impacts thousands of families in Edmonton, especially during times of increased expenses (like September!). 

The Campus Food Bank needs donations of fresh food (and non-perishable food) for food-insecure University of Alberta students, faculty, and staff. You can learn more about donating here.  

Donating to the Food Bank is also a meaningful way to help those families in need, and what better way to ring in the new school year by helping Edmonton students (both young and grown) fuel their studies healthfully! The Food Bank always accepts donations of fresh food at their warehouse at 11508-120 Street. 

Donate Fresh Food at SWEFM: Twice a year, SWEFM hosts the Food Bank for our Harvest Festival, where you can donate fresh produce to families in need. It's a great way to celebrate the harvest season and share local, fresh, healthy food with all Edmontonians. Our first Harvest Festival is on August 26 and there are two ways to donate: 

1. Bring Your Garden Fresh Veggies! The Food Bank runs a wonderful program called Plant a Row, Grow a Row where you plant a row of vegetables in the springtime and donate them in the fall. The Food Bank volunteers will love your garden fresh vegetables this Wednesday! To find out what types of veggies they love, read our post about PARGAR here.

2. Buy Your Favourite Market Produce! Don't have a garden? No problem! You can purchase your favourite vegetables from SWEFM vendors and donate them to the Food Bank on-site. It's a great way to share the delicious local gems at our market with food-insecure families in Edmonton!

Thank you for joining us for Studious Sunday! If you have any comments or stories about sedentary activity and diet, please tweet us @SWEFM_YEG or post on our Facebook page at You can find this week's study online here.

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