One in five children in regional and remote WA worry about getting enough food to eat according to a new study from Edith Cowan University.
Researchers surveyed more than 200 children from around the State to measure their food insecurity, which is defined as reduced or restricted access to sufficient, safe nutritious and appropriate food.
The paper, ‘Prevalence and socio-demographic predictors of food insecurity among regional and remote Western Australian children’ was published today (Wednesday, 13th September 2017) in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
Of the children surveyed, 21.2% reported worrying that the food at home would run out before their family got money to buy more.
Almost one in ten reported having to eat less because their family didn’t have enough money to buy food and 14% said their meals only contain cheap low quality food.
Lead researcher Dr Stephanie Godrich from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences said the research was the first in Australia to measure food insecurity as reported by children.
“Previous Australian studies looking at food insecurity have surveyed parents or caregivers rather than their children,” she said.
“Caregivers have reported feeling ashamed of their inability to feed their family which may have resulted in an underreporting of food insecurity in previous studies.
“By gathering this data directly from children we have been able to create a clearer picture of the problem of food insecurity in regional and remote WA.”
Dr Godrich said the research revealed an interesting link between food insecurity and economic disadvantage.
“While we may expect the problem to be greatest in the most disadvantaged areas, we actually found that it was children living in areas of medium socioeconomic status (SES) that were more likely to be food insecure,” she said.
“This suggests that some of the families in these medium SES areas may not be eligible for the types of financial assistance or may believe that they do not need it.
“What this tells us is that this is a systemic problem in regional and remote WA and we need government action to address it.”
Dr Godrich said action is urgently needed to address the situation because food insecurity during childhood can result in poor health outcomes later in life.
“Ensuring an adequate social safety net is important. Additionally, creating local employment opportunities in regional and remote areas can increase the financial security for families.
“Local Governments across WA will be developing new Public Health Plans. We would like to see strategies included to improve access to affordable, nutritious food options for all families.
“Finally, we need ongoing, accurate measurement of the issue in Australia that also investigates the impact of food insecurity on health outcomes.”
This research was supported by a grant from the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation (Healthway).
(Source: Edith Cowan University)