Food shortages among ATSI people highlighted

Aboriginal flag flies next to Australian flag

Health organisations have called for greater efforts to overcome food insecurity, with new data showing an alarming rate of food shortages among ATSI people.

More than one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in a household that had run out of food and were unable to buy more, according to new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The data, from the ABS’ Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey, reveals this is six times that of non-Indigenous people.

The report shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote areas were more likely than those in non-remote areas to be living in a household that had run out of food and couldn’t afford to buy more (31% compared with 20%).

Australian Red Cross, the Dietitians Association of Australia and the Public Health Association have joined forces to express concern at the new figures and what this means for the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities across Australia.

“These findings are troubling. They match the growing concerns from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff at Red Cross who are working in partnership with their communities and are alert to this growing problem,” says Melissa Gibson, Manager of Youth, Families and Communities with Australian Red Cross.

“It confirms it’s a complex issue that we must face together for any chance to effectively close the gap.

“Communities want to work on this and today (Tuesday 24 March) in Port Augusta the local Red Cross team is convening a community forum on food security, bringing people together to identify local issues, actions and solutions.

“Creating effective solutions involves local people and can make an impact to strengthen culture, health and capacity. Local communities need to work on this but all levels of government and business must also be at the table.”

Claire Hewat, CEO of the Dietitians Association of Australia, says the differences in food security between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous populations is worrying, as being able to access nutritious food has a huge impact on overall health.

‘While this data shows the average overall energy, or kilojoule, intake for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women appears to fall within normal levels, we’re concerned about the diet quality,” Hewat says.

‘For instance, this data shows that fruit and vegetable intake is lower in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and discretionary foods and drinks – those with very little nutritional value – make up 41 per cent of total energy intake.”

PHAA Chief Executive Officer Michael Moore said: “Food is a basic human right for everyone, yet the ABS data shows that food insecurity is dependent on where you live in Australia. We know that food costs more in rural, regional and remote communities, and healthy food – such as fresh fruit and vegetables – is particularly expensive compared to in major Australian cities.

“This is staggering evidence of food inequity in Australia. Australians who are most likely to suffer food insecurity are low income earners, the underemployed, less educated and people living in remote areas. In a country as rich as Australia these results are unacceptable.

“The evidence also shows that Indigenous Australians are disproportionately affected. Traditionally Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people got their food from local and sustainable sources that were extremely high in nutritional value.

“This was then significantly disrupted by white settlement and continues to be, with unacceptable results that contribute to the gap in health, social and other outcomes.”

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