A growing number of Australians are reported having trouble put enough healthy food on the table every day, because the cost of living is soaring. But Australia does not collect enough data on food insecurity. The lack of data makes it difficult for policy makers to grasp the extent of the problem, let alone take effective action to address it.
Food insecurity can range from anxiety about not having enough food at home, eating cheaper and less healthy foods due to a lack of money, regularly skipping meals and feeling hungry.
Estimates from before 2020 suggested that between 4% and 13% of the general Australian population were food insecure and 22% to 32% of the Indigenous population, depending on location. A recent study found that food insecurity levels are worse than before the COVID pandemic.
In Australia, food insecurity is generally due to financial difficulties. This can be the result of low wages, unexpected bills, or inadequate government support payments.
Food insecurity has a strong influence on health. This results in deterioration of physical and mental health in both adults and children. And the impacts worsen as the severity of food insecurity increases.
some Australians turn to food charity for temporary relief. But little is being done to change the root causes of food insecurity.
In response, Australia’s leading food insecurity researchers joined forces to develop the Consensus statement on household food security data. To be launched on December 14, the statement calls on Australia to use a reliable and internationally comparable measure of food insecurity. He proposes to use the complete questionnaire of 18 questions United States Department of Agriculture Household Food Security Survey Module.
If you don’t measure it, you can’t fix it
Federal, state and territorial governments do not regularly measure and report on food insecurity. This leaves researchers, organizations and policy makers short on information about food insecure Australians.
The information we have has been collected using numerous different measurement tools. This means that we cannot easily compare the results.
And these existing tools often underestimate the true level of food insecurity. This is because they don’t ask enough questions about the range of food insecurity experiences, such as eating poor quality foods, or worry about running out of food.
To fill this gap, we often turn to data collected by the emergency and community food sector. However, food security policy and government responses must be supported by independent and rigorous data collection. This is the only way to ensure that we have an accurate picture of food insecurity in the population as a whole.
Without this data, those in power appear to have no motivation to act in a timely manner to prevent Australians from experiencing food insecurity.
What can be done about these problems?
Other high-income countries, such as Canada and United States, have regular and reliable monitoring systems. These countries measure food insecurity every one to two years. Their reliable data allow them to respond with targeted policies.
Australia can learn from these countries. Regular, high-quality data on food insecurity will support action at all levels of society. This will help ensure that policy responses are timely and targeted.
local level collaborations – e.g. Western Australia food community the project works with community members to develop local solutions in different regions
emergency food aid
school-based initiatives such as meal programs that provide nourishment and help children understand healthy eating
education programs that develop nutritional knowledge and cooking skills in people at risk of food insecurity
broad policy interventions, including increased government support payments.
A call to properly monitor food insecurity in Australia
Regular national monitoring of food insecurity will mean that we have enough good information about Australians’ experiences of food insecurity. We can then use this information to take action that helps those who are struggling to get basic necessities like food.
The consensus statement released this week will be used in conversations with people in positions of power to highlight the importance of measuring food insecurity.
The United States Household Food Security Survey Module recommended in the declaration is a measurement tool available free of charge. It takes minutes to complete, has been translated into multiple languages, and is relatively easy to use. Importantly, it can measure food insecurity in households with adults and children.
We know that food insecurity is a growing problem in Australia. What we need now is a commitment from all levels of government to regularly monitor food insecurity. Only then can targeted responses be developed.
No one in Australia should go hungry.