Food security and health in rural and remote Australia

  • Two hands holding an apple at a fruit market.

More than one million people living in Australia today cannot afford to eat a healthy diet, either occasionally or regularly.

A major 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.

The report makes the case for food security considerations to be incorporated into an integrated national discussion about health, agriculture, water resource management, supply chains, taxation and trade. The report also underscores the need for a comprehensive cost benefit analysis of the impact of food insecurity for remote and rural Australian communities.

Low income households, single-parent households and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are those most at risk from food insecurity, with up to 30 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households in remote Australia being food insecure.

The report brings together Australian and international evidence on the ways in which not having access to an affordable healthy, nutritious diet affects individuals’ health and wellbeing throughout their life course. It also looks at government policies to support access to food and nutrition; action in the not-for-profit sector to support access to a healthy diet; and supply chain issues that impact on access to healthy food.

It finds that Australia lacks a national strategy for food security and that data describing food security in Australia is incomplete and under-sampled in remote and isolated communities.

Food insecurity has adverse health and social effects across the whole of life – from infancy through to old age. The health impact, including higher rates of chronic diseases, is felt most significantly in rural and remote communities.

Food insecurity results in poorer health and lower levels of educational achievement, both of which negatively influence productivity and growth in rural and remote communities.

On the other hand, 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.

The report calls for a national food security strategy that includes an appropriately funded research agenda that addresses economic and agricultural aspects of food security.

Research into innovative approaches to addressing food insecurity and translation of successful models into different community settings, as well as longitudinal research on the effect of food insecurity on children over the life course is also needed.

Sampling methodologies for surveys measuring food security in Australia must ensure data from remote and very remote participants is collected for analysis and reporting.

Local community action to address food insecurity, such as development of local community gardens and/or kitchens, establishing local farmers’ markets, and establishing community cooperatives to support the sale of locally grown produce, should be encouraged and supported by governments, for example, through a program of small start-up grants.

Addressing food insecurity has the potential to deliver significant benefits – to those directly affected by not having access to a healthy diet, and also to communities and the national economy.

The report is available at https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/16-053

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