The survey of 2,000 Victorians[i] shows single-parent families and those on low incomes have been hardest hit – almost half (49 per cent) of families earning less than $40,000 a year and 4 in 10 (38 per cent) single-parent families resorted to cheap, unhealthy food due to a shortage of money.
Alarmingly, 1 in 4 (27 per cent) single-parent families and 1 in 10 (11 per cent) families on low incomes ran out of food and couldn’t afford to buy more.
VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio said many families were already facing an uphill battle when coronavirus hit.
“The ripple effect of this year’s bushfires, drought and coronavirus pandemic has put significant financial strain on Victorian families, and it’s having a concerning impact on children’s diets,” Dr Demaio said.
“All families want their kids to grow up healthy and strong, but this new research shows that due to budget pressures many are having to rely on cheap, unhealthy food to feed their kids, and some are even going without food.
“We must make delicious, fresh healthy food more affordable and available for Victorian families doing it tough. We know unhealthy food and drinks like soft drinks, chips and sugary cereals are more likely to be discounted than healthy food like fruit and vegetables.
“We also know unhealthy food companies deliberately target their promotions and advertising to families from poorer communities, putting their profits ahead of our health.”
Recent data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed a widening gap between poor and rich communities when it comes to childhood obesity. Kids in low socioeconomic areas were more than twice as likely to be above a healthy weight than those from the highest socioeconomic areas (11 per cent vs 4.4 per cent).
Dr Demaio called for greater financial support from governments to ensure all Victorian kids have the chance to live healthy, happy lives.
“The gap between rich and poor is continuing to widen. Some experts are concerned this generation will be the first in history to live shorter lives than their parents, burdened by type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diet-related health problems,” he said.
“This year there’s been a hefty increase in the cost of healthy food, like fruit, vegetables, seafood and meats, at a time when families are losing their jobs or having their hours dramatically cut back.
“We must do all we can to support families to ensure they can access and afford to feed their kids healthy food.
“It’s great to see the extension of JobKeeper Payment beyond September but for real impact, the federal government’s Coronavirus Supplement for JobSeeker Payment recipients must also be extended, and the eligibility criteria to include some of the most marginalised people in our society, such as refugees and asylum seekers and migrant workers.
“Governments must ensure that access to healthy, affordable food is a key part of the coronavirus recovery strategy. This will help keep Victorian families healthy long-term and provide flow-on economic benefits for primary producers and regional communities.”
Next month VicHealth will announce more than $1 million in Partnership Grants for community organisations helping Victorians stay physically and mentally well during the pandemic – this will include funding for initiatives which improve access to affordable, healthy food.
VicHealth will also provide a further $30,000 to non-profit social enterprise The Community Grocer to relaunch its Pakenham market, which was suspended during the coronavirus pandemic. In-kind support will be provided by Cardinia Shire Council, as part of the Cardinia Food Circles project.
This builds on the $150,000 Partnership Grant VicHealth provided to The Community Grocer in May to help more Victorians access fresh fruit and vegetables, and keep well during this very challenging time.
The VicHealth survey of 2,000 Victorians revealed:
More than 1 in 4 (26 per cent) Victorian families[ii] bought cheap, unhealthy food due to home budget pressures during the first coronavirus lockdown.
This was higher among families earning less than $40,000 a year (49 per cent) and single-parent families (38 per cent).
1 in 4 (27 per cent) single-parent families and 1 in 10 (11 per cent) families on low incomes ran out of food and couldn’t afford to buy more.
1 in 3 (32 per cent) Victorian families drank sugary drinks daily.
Daily consumption was higher among households on low incomes (43 per cent) and single-parent families (49 per cent).
Recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows:
1 in 4 (25 per cent) Australian children and adolescents aged 2–17 are overweight or obese, with 1 in 12 (8.2 per cent) being obese.
Kids in low socioeconomic areas were more than twice as likely to be above a healthy weight than those from the highest socioeconomic areas (11 per cent vs 4.4 per cent).