Health food.

Governments urged to measure household food insecurity: new study

20 June 2017

New research from the Sydney Environment Institute has tracked the complexity of food insecurity - inadequate access to affordable, nutritious food - among Afghan migrant communities in Sydney, London and San Francisco. 

A new study has for first time tracked the complexity of food insecurity among three Afghan migrant communities in Sydney, London and San Francisco.

PhD candidate Luke Craven from the Sydney Environment Institute spent three months with each community, tracing the complex factors contributing to food insecurity (having insufficient access to affordable, nutritious food) and its varied impacts.

“Too often governments think of food insecurity as either being caused solely by economic or geographic factors. But what this misses are its other causes, which are often low-hanging fruit,” said Mr Craven, who is also from the University’s Department of Government and International Relations

Many other issues that contribute to food insecurity fly under the radar, but addressing them has the potential to hugely benefit food insecure communities.
Luke Craven, PhD candidate at the Sydney Environment Institute

“The problem of food insecurity is only compounded by other factors. For families with school-age children, the start of the school year is often a difficult time, with parents having to scrape together money to afford regulation black school shoes for fast growing feet.

“Creative policies like a shoe exchange, or doing away with those regulations in schools altogether, would help families struggling to get by.” 

Under the supervision of Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute, Professor David Schlosberg, and key researcher at the Institute, Professor Bill Pritchard, Mr Craven connected with Afghan communities and community organisations at the coal-face.

“Without a publicly-funded health system, too many Afghan migrants in San Francisco face the impossible decision of choosing to spend their pay on medication to manage diabetes or on nutritious – but expensive – food,” Mr Craven said.

“Much like Sydney’s housing affordability issue, Afghan migrants in London, particularly those on zero-hour contracts, face the often-testing tasking of accessing affordable and nutritious food.

“What we would usually classify as housing and employment issues compound to create food insecurity problems.”

Creative policies like a shoe exchange, or doing away with those regulations in schools altogether, would help families struggling to get by.
Luke Craven, PhD candidate at the Sydney Environment Institute

In the United Kingdom, estimates suggest that more than 8 million people live in households that struggle to put good food on the table, with over half regularly going a whole day without eating. Food insecurity affects a staggering 15.8 million American households.

Without a comprehensive approach to the problem, food insecurity can fall through the policy cracks, said Mr Craven. But there are a range of small actions governments and communities can take to improve the issues, like improving public transport, funding school food programs, or providing subsidies for childcare.

The NSW Refugee Health Service helped to facilitate the research with Sydney’s Afghan community. Dr Mitchell Smith, NSW Refugee Health Service, said “Raising awareness of food insecurity and nutritional issues experienced by refugees at a community level is an important strategy towards alleviating the problem.”

Among the non-profit organisations that supported the research was NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARRTS) who said, “The findings indicating a need for holistic understanding of food security are congruent with the practice wisdom of STARTTS staff and issues raised with us through direct community consultations.”

Mr Craven’s dissertation calls on governments to measure food insecurity so that it can start to be addressed.

“Currently there is no national data on food insecurity here in Australia, rather we have patchwork research that only gives us a glimpse into the issue,” he said.

“It is critical that governments measure the scale and extent of food insecurity: this will give a panoramic picture of this serious issue that people are dealing with on a daily basis and support the development of cost-effective and impactful policy solutions,” Mr Craven said.

Mr Craven is a key researcher of the Food, People and the Planet research node of the Sydney Environment Institute. 

About Sydney Environment Institute:

Sydney Environment Institute is a cross-disciplinary research hub at the University of Sydney, which provides a platform to inform public discourse and decision-making in relation to the impact of climate change on society and the environment.

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