OPINION

The challenges of accessing fresh, affordable and healthy foods in remote communities

The challenges of accessing fresh, affordable and healthy foods in remote communities

While Australians have among the highest life expectancy in the world, premature deaths associated with inequality continue to flat line Australia's overall life expectancy.

One of the many factors that impact on early deaths and reinforces inequality is access to fresh, affordable and healthy foods in many remote communities across Australia.

There's no doubt that food insecurity is worst in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Recently, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs held an inquiry into the factors that contribute to high food prices and food security in remote Aboriginal stores.

This is not the first inquiry of its type. In fact, over the past three decades, there have been 11 major government reviews or consultation into this issue.

Food insecurity has the ability to close the gap.

It results in adverse health and social effects from infancy through to old age.

Food insecurity results in lower levels of educational achievement and poorer health, both of which affect productivity and growth in rural and remote communities.

On a recent visit to a remote community, bacon was priced at $22.80 a kilogram, compared with $11/kg in the closest regional supermarket (400km away).

A lettuce heart was $4.50 in the remote store and $2.50 in the supermarket.

A quarter of a pumpkin was $3.10 in the remote store and $1.50 in the supermarket.

The remote store prices are almost double.

In one store, Coke was cheaper than water.

There are many reasons that contribute to these higher prices, including transport and storage costs, lack of competition and consumer demand.

Yet the one common outcome is that the high prices, and lack of availability of fresh, healthy and affordable foods is impacting on the health of the communities.

It is not just the food supply, pricing and nutrition programs that need to be considered.

I am invited into people's homes as part of a project I lead.

The functionality of dwellings impacts on the ability to store, cook and serve healthy and fresh foods.

Issues include lack of functional white goods, power cuts, lack of working light bulbs and the inability to wash hands and faces.

In these communities, when a house needs a repair, a referral is made and the community waits weeks or months until contractors can visit.

The systems are broken. Australia urgently needs a national food security strategy that provides realistic solutions.

Because we know one thing for certain - people living in these areas need not only resources, but hope for the future to improve their health.

Dr Melissa Stoneham is director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA.