Background: Although initiatives are setting up to improve the nutritional status of deprived people, few studies have described the food aid user profile and evaluated their nutritional needs. The contributions of food aid to the food supply, dietary behaviour and nutritional status of food aid users were evaluated in the ABENA study.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted among food aid users in four urban French zones (n = 1664, age ≥18 years). Sociodemographic and economic characteristics, food insufficiency, food supply and diet behaviours were assessed using standardised questionnaires. A subsample of participants underwent clinical and biochemical examinations. Descriptive and comparative analyses were performed taking into account sample weights.
Results: Over 70% of participants used food aid as the only source of supply among numerous food groups, and one-quarter of them (27.2%) were using food aid for 3 years or more. The mean food budget was €70.0 per person per month, and 46.0% of subjects were classified as ‘food-insufficient’. Half of the subjects fulfilled the French recommendations for starchy foods (48.7%) and ‘meat, fish and eggs’ (49.4%); 27.3% met the requirements for seafood. Only a very small proportion of participants met the recommendations for fruits and vegetables (1.2%) and dairy products (9.2%). In addition, 16.7% of subjects were obese, 29.4% had high blood pressure, 14.8% were anaemic, 67.9% were at risk of folate deficiency and 85.6% had vitamin D deficiency.
Conclusions: These results provide evidence of an unhealthy diet and poor health profiles in severely disadvantaged persons and highlight the importance of food aid in this population. Thus, this study points to the necessity of improving the nutritional quality of currently distributed food aid.