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In a country with so much privilege, why are so many Australian’s going hungry?

No, this isn’t an article about weight loss. It isn’t about tuning into your hunger cues. It’s about a common issue currently driving the World Food Day campaign. Does it shock you that here in Australia, the “lucky” country, approximately 5% of people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life? This is Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)’s definition of food insecurity and it’s a bigger issue in Australia than you probably think.

It was recently brought to my attention that the 16th of October is World Food Day. Reading about the FAO’s current campaign inspired me to write about Australia’s food insecurity. During my research I quickly found myself in tears learning about how common it is in my own country. A country that is developed, has so much privilege and is supposed to be full of opportunity.

TWO IN FIVE HOUSEHOLDS (40%) EXPERIENCING FOOD INSECURITY ARE FAMILIES WITH DEPENDENT CHILDREN. MOST OF THESE CHILDREN (89%) ARE UNDER THE AGE OF 12 - Foodbank

Food insecurity is a common, but complex issue. There are varying degrees and a multitude of contributing factors. Some people aren’t able to access food due to lack of time, knowledge, physical ability, transport, storage or financial issues. For some people food just isn’t as availability in the area they live. Food outlets my be sparse, availability of food within those outlets may be limited or due to remoteness of the area price, quality and variety of food may be negatively affected. Several recent studies have highlighted the high cost of living in Australia as the main contributing factor to rising food insecurity levels.

Not getting enough food, for any of the above reasons, doesn’t just affect people’s hunger. There is growing evidence highlighting the link between food insecurity and chronic disease. A recent systematic review presented several studies that have shown this link even in the absence of obesity. The cycle of reduced intake when food isn’t available and feasting when it is, has a similar effect on the body and metabolism as that seen in chronic dieting. Food insecurity has also been shown to affect individuals immune function, social relationships and mental health.

There are many food relief charities that have already identified a need for a change. Most of these charities are working towards repurposing leftover food from supermarkets and various food outlets that would have otherwise gone to waste and supplying them to those in need, either free or at a significantly reduced price. Whilst this is an awesome start Food Bank CEO – Brianna Casey acknowledges “we are just putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.”

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) proposes that the solution must be “a government-led, comprehensive, system-wide, cross-sectoral response across relevant Ministerial portfolios”. They propose: changes to social security payments to address the inadequacy; changes to the current food relief system to focus more on nutritionally dense foods, use of food waste and provision of pathways to food security; more monitoring to figure out the extent of the problem and causes; and more funding to find a long-term solution.

Health is never black and white. In 2019 it’s hard to believe that something like food insecurity still exists in a country as well developed as Australia, but it does and we need to know about it. Let’s work on getting rid of the stigma of asking for help. Those that have accessed assistance report feeling happy, relieved and grateful they did. If you are in a situation right now where you can’t afford nourishing food, don’t be afraid to reach out. There are so many amazing organisations that can help.

If you are in a place of privilege, you too can help. You can work to push our governments for better policies, reduced living costs, fairer wages and higher welfare payments. You can support food relief organizations by donating time, money or food. You can talk about it! We know having access to nourishing food has a HUGE impact on health. So let’s work towards making sure EVERYONE has access to nourishing food.

For references and additional resources head on over to the resources page.

Melissa Gray

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