Teaming up to tackle food insecurity among Indigenous Australians
An AU$2 million study that brings together a handful of remote Queensland and Northern Territory communities will identify solutions to the food insecurity crisis faced by Australia’s indigenous groups.
Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and led by the University of Queensland, the three-year research project designed in conjunction with the Apunipima Cape York Health Council and the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress will be conducted across two phases and focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
“Food insecurity leads to hunger, anxiety, poor health, including under-nutrition, obesity and disease, and inter-generational poverty,” said the study’s lead researcher Dr Megan Ferguson, a Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition at the university’s School of Public Health.
“We will be working with communities to identify effective mechanisms to improve food security and enable healthy diets in remote Australia.”
Although often thought of in terms of third-world nations, food insecurity also affects certain groups in wealthy countries like Australia.
National data show the problem is particularly prevalent among the country’s indigenous remote communities, with 30 percent of indigenous adults reporting being worried about going without food.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the three primary components of food insecurity are inadequate access, inadequate supply and the inappropriate preparation of food.
Dr Ferguson says growing poverty and high food costs are the key causes of food insecurity for 31 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities. But this is a highly conservative estimate, given research suggests this could be as high as 62 percent.
Through the study, however, researchers will put in place a community-led framework and knowledge-sharing solutions that will help turn the tide on food insecurity for these disadvantaged groups.
The study will be conducted in two phases: the first phase will analyse how price discounts, offered via loyalty cards, impact the affordability of a healthy diet, while the second will capture participant experiences through photos, and use these to develop a framework of solutions that can be translated to health policy.
According to Dr Ferguson, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and carers of children aged under five, will be involved in the study in Central Australia and Cape York.
“Improving food security for the whole family, especially women and children, will improve diet quality and health, and give children the best start in life for generations to come,” she said.
Apunipima’s Nutrition Adviser Clare Brown said the organisation is pleased to be co-leading the project.
“It has come together through a very positive co-design process between researchers and Aboriginal community-controlled health service providers,” Brown said.
“The project’s community-led focus supports our way of working respectfully with Cape York communities, and is reflected in the Food Security Position Statement of Apunipima’s board.”
Congress chief executive Donna Ah Chee described the study as “really important” and the first of its kind in central Australia.
“We have high rates of iron deficiency anaemia in women and young children and we know this is caused by inadequate iron in the diet,” she said.
“Iron-rich foods are very expensive in remote communities, and it is believed this is a key factor in causing the deficiency.
“The study will enable key foods to be reduced in price and determine the impact this has on their consumption and subsequent health concerns. It will also enable the issue of food security to be more widely discussed.”
Menzies School of Health Research, Monash University, James Cook University and Canada’s Dalhousie University will also be involved in the study.