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Evidence Summary

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Community kitchens provide benefits for social and nutritional health

Iacovou M, Pattieson D, Truby H, Palermo C. Social health and nutrition impacts of community kitchens: A systematic review Public Health Nutrition. 2012; 16(3): 535-543.

Review question

      What is the impact of community kitchens on participants’ social skills, community connections and support, intake of nutritious food, and food security?

Background

      Community kitchens are community-focused cooking-type programs which provide an opportunity for a small group of people to meet regularly to prepare a meal.

      They are generally initiated by community facilitators and are meant to be self-sustaining after an initial period of orientation.

      The goal of community kitchens is the development of participant resilience for those experiencing food insecurity and social isolation, offering an alternative model from emergency food relief, which tends to create and support a cycle of dependency.

      The aim of this systematic review is to determine the impact of community kitchens on participants’ social skills, community connections and support, intake of nutritious food, and food security. It also aims to identify any existing research gaps and evaluate community kitchens as a health promotion strategy.

How the review was done

      Review authors conducted a detailed search of seven research databases in April of 2011.

      The search terms involved variations of the terms, community kitchen, nutrition, and social.  

      A total of 287 articles were retrieved from the initial search, of which ten were included in this review.

      This systematic review was supported by funding from Peninsula Health Community Health, health promotion program. No conflicts of interest were declared.

What the researchers found

      The results of the review were grouped into four themes: increase in reported intake of nutritious food and food security; increased self-reliance, dignity, and engagement with community services; improved social skills and enhanced social support; and increased skills, confidence, and enjoyment in cooking.

      Participants were generally from low-income families in Canada, Australia, and Scotland.

      Across multiple studies, it was reported that participants of community kitchens saw an improvement in their intake of nutritious food, had a greater variety of food intake, increased their diversity of fruit and vegetables purchased, and ate fast food less often. There were often positive flow-on effects to other family members as well.

      Studies also reported that community kitchens improved participants’ access to community services and resources and increased participants’ dignity by not having to access charitable resources.

      Most studies reported improvements in social interactions, skills, and support following involvement in community kitchens. This was credited to a variety of factors, including the safe environment provided by community kitchens, the breaking of social isolation, and having access to social and emotional supports.

      Other reported outcomes of community kitchen participation were increased enjoyment in cooking and eating, improved shopping skills, cooking skills and confidence, and improved food budgeting skills.

Conclusion

      In summary, this review found that community kitchens may be beneficial to the social and nutritional health of low-income participants and their families.

      Despite the preliminary findings of the review, there is a lack of high-level evidence that would be required to establish causal links.

      Review authors call for more rigorous research to attain a greater understanding and a more conclusive outcome on the actual effectiveness of community kitchens.




Glossary

Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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