One in five children in regional and remote WA worries about getting enough food to eat.
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.
In the sample group, 21% 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 contained 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 was 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.
She called for new public health plans being developed by local governments across the state to include strategies to improve access to affordable, nutritious food options for all families.
The paper, ‘Prevalence and socio-demographic predictors of food insecurity among regional and remote Western Australian children’ was published today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.