More Than One-Third of Australians Experiencing Food Insecurity
9 July 2018 at 5:12 pm
More than one-third of Australians are experiencing some form of food insecurity, a number significantly higher than previously reported, new research shows.
An Edith Cowan University (ECU) nationwide survey of 2,334 Australians found that 36 per cent of people have experienced low or very low food security at some time.
These findings are in stark contrast to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures, which suggests only four per cent of Australians experience food insecurity.
Lead researcher Lucy Butcher, from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, put down the discrepancy to the ABS not capturing all dimensions of food security.
“Our current national surveys tend to measure food deprivation – a household running out of food and not being able to purchase more,” Butcher said.
“But it doesn’t capture people who need to cut corners on food or are worried about where their next meal is coming from.
“Measuring food deprivation only encompasses the severest form of food insecurity, and has led to a substantial underreporting of the problem.”
ECU measured food security through a range of criteria from having no food, to dietary behaviours that included the skipping of meals, cutting meal sizes and being forced to buy cheaper less nutritious foods.
Researchers used a modified US Household Food Security Survey Module within an Australian context, in order to capture more nuanced data.
The findings suggested that food insecurity was an important issue across Australia and noted that certain groups, regardless of income, were particularly vulnerable.
For example 20 per cent of people aged 25-34 and aged 34-44 experienced very low food security, compared to only 8.4 per cent of those aged between 65 and 84.
“Home ownership, government assistance and children leaving home may be explanations for a reduction of food insecurity in the over-65 group,” Butcher said.
Occupation-wise, the group with the highest level of food insecurity was labourers, with a quarter experiencing very low food security.
This was followed by technicians and trades workers, with 21.6 per cent surveyed experiencing very low food security.
People with high salaries were not immune to experiencing food insecurity either, with 8.6 per cent of those earning $180,000 or more revealing they had very low food security.
Butcher said these findings highlighted that food insecurity was not exclusive to low-income households.
“Chronic health conditions, job losses or problems with gambling, drugs or alcohol can create financial instability and put a strain on food budgets regardless of household input,” she said.
“We also know that many middle income earners are feeling extreme mortgage stress in the current economy, which puts pressure on credit cards and spending decisions on basic essentials such as food.”
This research comes as a recent Foodbank report revealed more than one in five Australian children have experienced food insecurity over the past year, along with 15 per cent of adults.