Food and Brisbane households : dietary, social and health consequences of food insecurity

Ramsey, Rebecca Lorraine (2011) Food and Brisbane households : dietary, social and health consequences of food insecurity. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Background & Aims: Access to sufficient amounts of safe and culturally-acceptable foods is a fundamental human right. Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food insecurity therefore occurs when the availability or access to sufficient amounts of nutritionally-adequate, culturally-appropriate and safe foods, or, the ability to acquire such foods in socially-acceptable ways, is limited. Food insecurity may result in significant adverse effects for the individual and these outcomes may vary between adults and children. Among adults, food insecurity may be associated with overweight or obesity, poorer self-rated general health, depression, increased health-care utilisation and dietary intakes less consistent with national recommendations. Among children, food insecurity may result in poorer self or parent-reported general health, behavioural problems, lower levels of academic achievement and poor social outcomes. The majority of research investigating the potential correlates of food insecurity has been undertaken in the United States (US), where regular national screening for food insecurity is undertaken using a comprehensive multi-item measurement. In Australia, screening for food insecurity takes place on a three yearly basis via the use of a crude, single-item included in the National Health Survey (NHS). This measure has been shown to underestimate the prevalence of food insecurity by 5%. From 1995 – 2004, the prevalence of food insecurity among the Australian population remained stable at 5%. Due to the perceived low prevalence of this issue, screening for food insecurity was not undertaken in the most recent NHS. Furthermore, there are few Australian studies investigating the potential determinants of food insecurity and none investigating potential outcomes among adults and children. This study aimed to examine these issues by a) investigating the prevalence of food insecurity among households residing in disadvantaged urban areas and comparing prevalence rates estimated by the more comprehensive 18-item and 6-item United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Security Survey Module (FSSM) to those estimated by the current single-item measure used for surveillance in Australia and b) investigating the potential determinants and outcomes of food insecurity, Methods: A comprehensive literature review was undertaken to investigate the potential determinants and consequences of food insecurity among developed countries. This was followed by a cross-sectional study in which 1000 households from the most disadvantaged 5% of Brisbane areas were sampled and data collected via mail-based survey (final response rate = 53%, n = 505). Data were collected for food security status, sociodemographic characteristics (household income, education, age, gender, employment status, housing tenure and living arrangements), fruit and vegetable intakes, meat and take-away consumption, presence of depressive symptoms, presence of chronic disease and body mass index (BMI) among adults.

Among children, data pertaining to BMI, parent-reported general health, days away from school and activities and behavioural problems were collected. Rasch analysis was used to investigate the psychometric properties of the 18-, 10- and 6-item adaptations of the USDA-FSSM, and McNemar's test was used to investigate the difference in the prevalence of food insecurity as measured by these three adaptations compared to the current single-item measure used in Australia. Chi square and logistic regression were used to investigate the differences in dietary and health outcomes among adults and health and behavioural outcomes among children.

Results were adjusted for equivalised household income and, where necessary, for indigenous status, education and family type.

Results: Overall, 25% of households in these urbanised-disadvantaged areas reported experiencing food insecurity; this increased to 34% when only households with children were analysed. The current reliance on a single-item measure to screen for food insecurity may underestimate the true burden among the Australian population, as this measure was shown to significantly underestimate the prevalence of food insecurity by five percentage points.

Internationally, major potential determinants of food insecurity included poverty and indicators of poverty, such as low-income, unemployment and lower levels of education. Ethnicity, age, transportation and cooking and financial skills were also found to be potential determinants of food insecurity. Among Australian adults in disadvantaged urban areas, food insecurity was associated with a three-fold increase in experiencing poorer self-rated general health and a two-to-five-fold increase in the risk of depression. Furthermore, adults from food insecure households were twoto- three times more likely to have seen a general practitioner and/or been admitted to hospital within the previous six months, compared to their food secure counterparts.

Weight status and intakes of fruits, vegetables and meat were not associated with food insecurity.

Among Australian households with children, those in the lowest tertile were over 16 times more likely to experience food insecurity compared to those in the highest tertile for income. After adjustment for equivalised household income, children from food insecure households were three times more likely to have missed days away from school or other activities. Furthermore, children from food insecure households displayed a two-fold increase in atypical emotions and behavioural difficulties.

Conclusions: Food insecurity is an important public health issue and may contribute to the burden on the health care system through its associations with depression and increased health care utilisation among adults and behavioural and emotional problems among children. Current efforts to monitor food insecurity in Australia do not occur frequently and use a tool that may underestimate the prevalence of food insecurity. Efforts should be made to improve the regularity of screening for food insecurity via the use of a more accurate screening measure. Most of the current strategies that aim to alleviate food insecurity do not sufficiently address the issue of insufficient financial resources for acquiring food; a factor which is an important determinant of food insecurity. Programs to address this issue should be developed in collaboration with groups at higher risk of developing food insecurity and should incorporate strategies to address the issue of low income as a barrier to food acquisition.

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ID Code: 64493
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Giskes, Katrina, Turrell, Gavin, & Gallegos, Danielle
Keywords: food security, food insecurity, health consequences, dietary consequences, behavioural consequences, health inequalities
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 14 Nov 2013 02:40
Last Modified: 06 Dec 2013 04:55

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