Some ethnic groups are being unintentionally excluded from using food banks and other community food aid, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of York looked at how 67 food aid providers work in Bradford, where nearly 25 per cent of the population is Muslim.

But the team concluded: "There is little Muslim provision of (or utilisation of) food aid, despite the local demographic context."

They said: "Perhaps surprisingly, given Bradford's ethnic diversity, clients of food aid providers were predominantly white.

"In particular, Christian food banks and soup kitchens reported serving very few Pakistani and/or Muslim clients."

The researchers said possible "inadvertent" reasons for this situation could include the predominance of "white food", how few non-Muslim organisations were able to cater for cultural diets and that white people were over-represented among the staff of providers.

They also said that large minority of providers required clients to engage with Christian doctrine or symbols.

But the study suggested that the findings may also be explained by possible lower levels of food insecurity among Pakistani Muslims.

It said that some ethnic minority groups have better health outcomes than expected due to support within their social networks.

The study, published in the Journal of Social Policy, said that the findings may also be explained by the existence of "alternative, hidden forms of food assistance" among the Pakistani Muslim community surrounding mosques.

It looked at an extensive network of food aid providers including food banks, soup kitchens, community cafes and religious centres.

Of the 67 community food aid providers, 52 per cent described themselves as secular, 36 per cent identified as Christian and ten per cent Muslim.

The researchers found that on-site food providers, like soup kitchens, tended to mostly serve white-British men between 30 and 50 years old. Many of these were homeless and had a history of alcohol and substance abuse and mental ill-health.

They found that the majority of food bank clients were white-British people with children in receipt of benefits.

The paper said: "While most clients were experiencing an acute financial crisis and required immediate assistance with food, some visited the food bank out of loneliness, while others could not afford a balanced diet and visited the food bank to improve the quality of their food."

The one Muslim food bank interviewed as part of the study had a more ethnically diverse client base than its Christian counterparts.

The team found that faith was an important motivation among all the Christian food aid providers they interviewed but this was less discussed by staff in Muslim charities.

"Staff spoke of motivation stemming primarily from unmet need, rather than Islamic teachings," the study said.

Lead researcher Madeleine Power said: "We were surprised, given Bradford's ethnic diversity, to find that clients of food aid providers were predominantly white.

"We are concerned that this may be the result of practices which unintentionally exclude some minority groups. It is essential that food aid is inclusive and accessible to whoever is in need."

The study also found that although food aid has taken over some roles previously provided by the state, it is not developing into a "a proxy welfare state".

Instead, the researchers said "food aid is akin to a pre-welfare state system of food distribution, supported by religious institutions and individual/business philanthropy".

Bob Doherty, Professor of marketing at the York Management School, University of York, said: "This is the first academic study in the UK to look in detail at the faith-based arrangements of Christian and Muslim food aid providers and explore how faith-based food aid organisations interact with people of other faiths and with the state.

"As such, it raises concerns about the accessibility of community food aid and the abdication of responsibility for food poverty by UK Government."