How Healthy Is Hunger Relief Food?

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Abstract

Distributing healthy food is an important goal for hunger relief agencies, but they face many challenges in meeting it. Budgets for purchasing food are limited, and hunger relief agencies often have little influence over the nutritional quality of food they receive through donations. In a recent study, Healthy Eating Index (HEI) scores were calculated monthly using electronic invoice data for food shelves served by two major food banks in Minnesota. While the HEI is directly related to nutrition guidelines and provides great detail in its scoring, implementation requires careful measurement and classification of foods and a rather complex set of calculations. In addition, a significant portion of food distributed by food banks is mixed pallets of free “miscellaneous” that cannot readily be included in HEI calculations. We propose and test a less data- and labor-intensive measure for characterizing the healthfulness of food distributed by hunger relief agencies. This new measure, the Hunger Relief Nutrition Index (HRNI), facilitates nutritional assessment of miscellaneous foods, allows for easy aggregation of healthfulness scores across food sources and time periods, and correlates well with the HEI.

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