The National Rural Health Alliance has had a long standing interest in food and nutrition as the foundation of good health and wellbeing for people in rural and remote Australia. When the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) asked the Alliance to examine the impact of food security on health in rural and remote Australia, the Alliance was pleased to take up the challenge.
The report Food security and health in rural and remote Australia, released this week, sets out the health challenges that occur when you don’t have access to a healthy diet.
The Alliance found that 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 wellbeing. The Alliance report details the evidence and goes on to examine the current policy settings at national, state/territory and local levels.
Food insecurity is associated with poverty. As the Australian Council on Social Services (ACOSS) announced on 16 October 2016, poverty in 2014 affected 13% of the national population and 14% of the rural and remote population – that is almost one person in seven. In the major cities, ACOSS reports that 12.8% of the population live in poverty.
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 through remote community stores than in Darwin or Adelaide is just one challenge to be overcome in some remote communities.
Food insecurity is also associated with being overweight and with obesity - if you can’t afford a healthy diet, you eat whatever you can afford which is often calorie rich, nutrition poor food. The rapidly increasing level of obesity in Australia is driving the growth in chronic diseases.
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.
Download the report: Food security and health in rural and remote Australia.