Food security matters for rural health
Food security in rural, regional and remote Australia has been in the spotlight this week with the National Rural Health Alliance hosting a virtual conversation on Monday. It also highlighted the issue in the latest issue of the Australian Journal of Rural Health.
National Rural Health Alliance CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane says that access to sufficient, affordable and nutritious food is incredibly important for the health of rural communities.
“While Australia is a food secure nation as a whole, there are many parts of the community who do not have reliable access to high-quality food,” she says. “This can be because of low food literacy, a lack of time or social isolation.
“But one of the biggest factors in food security is poverty. Also, the fact that many people in rural Australia simply can’t afford good quality fresh food. Especially considering that healthy food becomes more expensive the further away you get from the cities.”
Boosting food security
The Queensland Healthy Food Access Basket Survey, which measures the cost and availability of a standard basket of healthy food items in Queensland, has highlighted the increasing cost of food as remoteness increases.
The survey showed that fruit costs up to 45 percent more in remote areas than in major cities. Vegies and legumes cost up to 14 percent more, and grains up to 30 percent more.
“While the cost of getting food to remote areas is a factor, this is only one part of the story,” Dr O’Kane says. “Freight subsidies are important but need to be passed on to the consumer. They do not in themselves solve the problem.”
The Alliance says there needs to be collaboration between government, retailers, producers and transport companies. This would ensure that remote retailers have the buying power to stock affordable healthy produce in the first place.
“Of course, price is not the only issue,” Dr O’Kane says. “We need to ensure that if we do make healthy food cheaper or boost people’s incomes then that is not simply offset by an increase in the purchase of unhealthy food. That’s where other issues like merchandising and promotion come into play.”