More than 1 million people cannot afford to eat a healthy diet either occasionally, or regularly in Australia today. Not having consistent, reliable access to healthy, affordable food is called food insecurity and it can have a significant impact on your health and well-being.
The report Food Security and Health in Rural and Remote Australia, prepared by the National Rural Health Alliance for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, sets out the health impacts associated with lack of access to a healthy diet. The report goes on to provide options on how to address these challenges.
Food insecurity is associated with poverty. As ACOSS announced on Sunday, poverty in 2014 affected 13% of the national population. And it was worse in rural and remote Australia, where 14% of the population was living in poverty – that is almost one person in seven.
Low income households, single-parent households and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are those most at risk from food insecurity, with up to 30% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households in remote Australia being food insecure.
Paying up to two thirds more for food in remote community stores, compared to those in Darwin or Adelaide, is just one challenge to be overcome in some remote communities.
Food insecurity is associated with being overweight and obesity. Not being able to afford a healthy diet, can lead to eating what is relatively affordable which is often calorie rich, nutrition poor food. It has been well established that rapidly increasing levels of obesity in Australia are driving growth in chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
The good news is that investing in food insecure mothers and infants through providing access to a better diet can benefit children’s academic ability and health across their lifespan.
Addressing food insecurity has the potential to deliver significant benefits – not only for those directly affected because they don’t have access to a healthy diet, but also to communities and the national economy.
“Famine and hunger are both rooted in food insecurity. Chronic food insecurity translates into a high degree of vulnerability to famine and hunger; ensuring food security presupposes elimination of that vulnerability.”
Effects of food insecurity (@ Wikipedia)
Better Food, Better Futures
National Rural Health Alliance 20 Oct 2016
Australia is a wealthy country but malnutrition causes large numbers of rural and remote children to be hospitalised every year.
Malnutrition and nutritional risk were the cause of 44% of paediatric admissions to regional hospitals during a one-day snap shot of Australian paediatric admissions in 2015.
In 1995, it was estimated that about 20% of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory suffered from malnutrition. Without more robust data, it is hard to know whether this situation has changed in the intervening 21 years.
Growing up without access to affordable, healthy food to eat – being food insecure – is not just bad for the health of a child, it also affects their growth and development. If food insecurity persists, it affects all aspects of the child’s schooling, setting children up for a poor life trajectory.
Professor Kerry Arabena, Chair of Indigenous Health at the University of Melbourne, leads the First 1000 Days Australia project. She argues that the 1000 days from conception up until a child turns two are critical days to ensure every child has the basic building blocks they need for success at school and throughout life. And the findings of the report Food Insecurity and Health in Rural and Remote Australia support this.
The events and conditions that exist in these first 1000 days up until a child turns two have a significant impact on the way a child develops. This means the health and well-being of the mother before she becomes pregnant and during pregnancy is crucial in giving children the best start in life.
Where conditions are optimal, the mother and child have the best possible situation for a healthy pregnancy resulting in a normal birth-weight baby that will reach its healthy growth and development marks.
International studies show that children who are malnourished in the first year of life have impaired growth, lower IQs and poor scholastic achievement.
But this doesn’t have to be. A second International study that has been following a group of children into adulthood showed that the potentially poor health, education and life outcomes can be addressed with early, ongoing, nutritional support through better diet and vitamin/mineral supplements.
Children offered such ongoing support to their diet had higher rates of schooling completion, better reading comprehension, higher IQ test results and earned higher wages. And their risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease was also reduced.
With such results, supporting better diets for rural and remote mothers and young children makes sense.