Working with communities to improve food security among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will be the focus of a significant University of Queensland study.
The three-year research project, designed in conjunction with the Apunipima Cape York Health Council and the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, will be funded by a $2 million-plus National Health and Medical Research Council grant to UQ’s School of Public Health.
The study’s phase one will analyse how price discounts, offered via loyalty cards, impact on affordability of a healthy diet.
Phase two will capture participants’ experiences through photos, and use these to develop a framework of solutions that can be translated to health policy.
Dr Megan Ferguson said growing poverty and high food costs were key causes of food insecurity for 31 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities, although research suggests this may be as high as 62 per cent.
“Food insecurity leads to hunger, anxiety, poor health, including under-nutrition, obesity and disease, and inter-generational poverty,” Dr Ferguson said.
“We will be working with communities to identify effective mechanisms to improve food security and enable healthy diets in remote Australia.”
This would be done through a community-led framework and knowledge-sharing solutions.
“Pregnant and breastfeeding women, and carers of children aged under five, will be involved in the study in Central Australia and Cape York,” Dr Ferguson said.
“Improving food security for the whole family, especially women and children, will improve diet quality and health, and give children the best start in life for generations to come.”
Clare Brown, Apunipima’s Nutrition Advisor, said the organisation was pleased to co-lead “this important project”.
“It has come together through a very positive co-design process between researchers and Aboriginal community controlled health service providers,” Ms Brown said.
“The project’s community-led focus supports our way of working respectfully with Cape York communities, and is reflected in the Food Security Position Statement of Apunipima’s board,” Ms Brown said.
Congress chief executive Donna Ah Chee said the organisation was pleased to be partnering with Apunipima Health Service and the UQ “in this really important study, the first of its kind in Central Australia”.
“We have high rates of iron deficiency anaemia in women and young children and we know this is caused by inadequate iron in the diet,” Ms Ah Chee said.
“Iron-rich foods are very expensive in remote communities, and it is believed this is a key factor in causing the deficiency.
“The study will enable key foods to be reduced in price and determine the impact this has on their consumption and subsequent health concerns. It will also enable the issue of food security to be more widely discussed.”
Menzies School of Health Research, Monash University, James Cook University and Canada’s Dalhousie University are also involved in the study.