When people hear the term ‘food insecurity’ they often think of third world countries. Not many people think of the vulnerable populations within a wealthy country like Australia. Food security means that a person has easy access to an adequate supply of food to support a healthy life and meet their requirements. This changes when there are barriers to access and supply of nutritious and safe foods and as a result, the person or family may be at risk of inadequate nourishment and even malnutrition.
Factors that lead to food insecurity
Food access – ability to acquire and prepare nutritious food
- Easy access to food outlets
- The ability to shop and prepare food e.g. difficulty mobilising could impact on this
- Adequate knowledge and skills to make nutritious choices
- Access to appropriate storage and food preparation spaces/ equipment
- Ability to purchase and safely transport food
Food availability – the community’s supply of food which can determine the food security of that population
- Adequate supply of nutritious foods available in the stores, at all times
- Location of food outlets
- Price and quality of foods available
Food use – Adequate knowledge and skills to prepare nutritious, safe meals.
- Enough education to know how to safely prepare foods and make nutritious meals
There are considered to be three different extremes of food security
- Insecure but free from hunger: there may be some factors that impact on food security but regular meals are still consumed.
- Insecure with extreme hunger: There are barriers to a regular supply of adequate food and people will often miss meals or have to turn to non nutritive items.
Groups at risk of food insecurity
There are certain groups that are at a greater risk of food insecurity. These include:
- Indigenous people
- This population may be living in very remote areas without easy access to food outlets or transport. There are higher rates of low income, inadequate nutrition knowledge, inadequate food preparation/ storage facilities and poor access to transport even in urban dwelling Indigenous people. Indigenous people are also at higher risk for lifestyle related diseases like type 2 diabetes.
- These populations are subject to the same barriers to food as those discussed for Indigenous populations. Additionally, the food within Australia is often very foreign to them and they may not be able to read the labelling, adding difficulty to the task of making nutritious choices. As a result, these populations often turn to higher sugar and higher fat items that then lead to dental decay and place them at risk of other health complications.
- People who are unemployed
- Single parent families
- Young people
- Low income families/ individuals
- People who are frail, disables or suffer from chronic illness
- For these groups, mobility and transport can be a big challenge. They may not be able to mobilise for long periods of time due to pain, fatigue, frailty or disability. They may be socially isolated and without easy access to transport. Even carrying shopping can pose a problem. Once they obtain ingredients, they may not have the ability to easily prepare foods.
- People without easy access to transport
It is not uncommon for people to neglect the nutritional quality of a person’s diet so long as they are eating regularly and not having to go without meals. However, without access to nutritious and safe ingredients and meals, food security does not exist.
Some positive steps
In some locations/ for certain groups, there are health services and programs set up to help educate these vulnerable populations. People may have ample amounts of food at home but it could all be very nutrient poor. It is therefore essential to educate people on how to make nutritious choices within their budget and to encourage planning ahead/ writing a list.