What is food security?

Food security is a fundamental human right. The Committee on World Food Security define food security as existing when all people at all times have:

You know how to talk about your product in a way that makes the right people think,” this was made for me!”

There are four pillars of food security:

Food availability: The availability of food for consumption through either self-provision or purchase that is of sufficient quantity and appropriate quality. Food can be supplied through domestic production, imports or food aid, with availability determined by the level of food production, stock levels and net trade. Food access: The physical and economic accessibility of appropriate, nutritious food for consumption. Physical access refers to the availability of food either by foot or via transport, while economic access refers to sufficient resources (income, expenditure, markets, price) to purchase affordable food. Legal, political, economic and social arrangements of communities in which people live influence food accessibility. Utilisation: The physical, human and social resources needed to transform food items into meals, with food choice influenced by knowledge, skills and socio-cultural dimensions. This also encompasses food sanitation, as unhygienic practices limit available food and reduce biological utilisation of nutrients. Aspects of utilisation include good equipment, safe water supply, food literacy, food and nutrition knowledge and facilities (hand washing, toilet). Stability: Related to the availability and access dimensions, this refers to an individual, household or population having access to adequate food at all times without risk of deteriorating nutritional status. Adverse weather conditions, political instability, or economic factors (unemployment, rising food prices) may impact food security status.

Food security is hypothesised to be associated with the outcomes displayed in Figure 1.

This highlights that:

Major predictors of food insecurity include low income or poverty, while other potential determinants include belonging to an ethnic minority, lower levels of education and family type. Food insecurity contributes to an increased consumption of energy dense foods and decreased consumption of core foods, including lower variety which = inadequate nutrient intakes. Advocating to improve food security is a multi-levelled approach. In a recent lecture, Professor Danielle Gallegos identified strategies that need to be enacted at the structural, economic, social and functional levels to address food insecurity:

Advocating to improve food security is a multi-levelled approach. In a recent lecture, Professor Danielle Gallegos identified strategies that need to be enacted at the structural, economic, social and functional levels to address food insecurity:

Structural level:

This involves adequate income, a national poverty alleviation strategy, climate change mitigation strategies to ensure food availability and comprehensive monitoring and surveillance of food insecurity. In relation to monitoring and surveillance, Australia currently uses a single item to assess food insecurity: “In the past 12 months was there any time when [you [or members of your household] ran out of food and couldn’t afford to buy more?”. The 2011-12 Australian Health Survey reported 4% of people lived in a food insecure household, however, researchers have identified that this under-reports levels of food insecurity by a fairly substantial margin, with population levels closer to 12%, 25% in more disadvantaged areas and up to 50% in remote areas. Therefore, more comprehensive measures of food insecurity should be considered; the two measures most frequently used are the 8-item Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) and the 6 or 10-item United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tool. While both have limitations as they don’t comprehensively assess the four pillars of food insecurity, the USDA is used often in the Australian context.

Economic level:

This involves strengthening the welfare safety net, reforming the community development program, addressing housing, energy and water affordability, healthy food availability and food affordability.

Social level:

This involves mental health prevention, management and treatment, recognising of racism as a determinant of health, continued strengthening of domestic violence prevention strategies.

Functional level:

This involves integrating food literacy back into the school curriculum, universal school meals, re-prioritisation and conceptualisation of time, ensuring all accommodation has access to working equipment.

Overall, food insecurity is prevalent internationally, across low-, middle- and high-income countries. In low-income countries, those with the least access to economic, educational or agricultural resources experience higher levels of household food insecurity, while in high-income countries, those on low incomes or experiencing disadvantage are most at risk.

Dr Courtney Thompson

ANutr, BNutrSc, BBiomedSc(Hons), FHEA, PhD
Director, NPR Consulting

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