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World Food Day highlights plight of hungry Australians

Thursday October 16, 2008

High food and petrol prices, rising rents and costs of living combined with the growing financial crisis mean thousands of Australians still go hungry every day and are forced to turn to organisations like Red Cross to plug the gap in their nutritional needs.

A study in south-western Sydney found that as many as 20 per cent of households in lower-income subrubs are experiencing food insecurity - in other words, they don't know where their next meal will come from.

Red Cross runs national programs like the Good Start Breakfast Club, which provides about 700,000 nutritious breakfasts a year to school-age children, and FOODcents, which aims to help people on a tight budget buy and prepare healthy foods. It also supports school and community gardens, provides emergency relief, Meals-on-Wheels and street soup patrols for the most vulnerable.

Red Cross National Manager of Community Nutrition, Shaun Hazeldine, says the organisation serves as many as 1.5 million meals a year nationally, but this is a stop-gap measure that needs to be replaced by a workable long-term national solution to food security issues involving the charity sector in partnership with communities, government and business.

'While there is an acute need to plug the nutrition gap, the focus has to shift to tackling the structural and systemic barriers that prevent the most needy from accessing nutritious and affordable food,' Mr Hazeldine said.

'We are therefore committed to building partnerships with communities, government and business to alleviate the situation and improve food security.'

'An important part of our strategy also includes working with government advisory committees, food coalitions and policy groups. That way, we can support communities to address their specific nutrition challenges.'

Mr Hazeldine said flagship programs like Good Start Breakfast Clubs, which are supported nationally by Coles, not only provide school-age children with breakfast but teaches them valuable nutritional, social and life skills.

Red Cross head of indigenous strategy, Olga Havnen, said World Food Day was a reminder that Australia was not immune from malnutrition, particularly among the most disadvantaged and remote communities.

'It is universally acknowledged by health experts that the high rates of ill-health among remote and indigenous communities is directly related to poor nutrition, while low birth weight and failure to thrive are much higher than the Australian average,' Ms Havnen said.

'The high cost of living and low incomes in these areas means that people cannot afford healthy food.'