Health, nutrition and food

Health, nutrition and food

In March 2008, VicHealth provided a definition of food security in their submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's inquiry into grocery prices.

Food security is defined as the ability to eat adequate, culturally appropriate and nutritious food from non-emergency sources on a regular basis. Food security is a basic human right and the basis of good physical and mental health, enabling us to function optimally and participate in the workforce.

Source: Todd Harper, VicHealth submission to ACCC grocery prices inquiry

The VicHealth submission cited observations of Dr Cate Burns regarding Victorian poverty and food insecurity:

There is evidence that being food insecure is also linked to being overweight and obese due to 'famine and feast' variation in food consumption as well as consumption of cheaper energy-dense foods with high fat and sugar content.

Source: Todd Harper, VicHealth submission to ACCC grocery prices inquiry

Forecasters estimate an overall drop in Australian food production as a result of climate change. William Cline in Global warming and agriculture suggests a 15.6 per cent to 26.6 per cent reduction in agricultural production for Australia. Don Gunasekera et al. from ABARE estimate that Australian wheat, beef, dairy and sugar production could fall by 9–10 per cent by 2030 and 13–19 per cent by 2050 and that key exports could decline by 11 to 63 per cent in 2030 and by 15–79 per cent by 2050.

Generally, estimates are that Australia will be warmer and drier by 2030 as demonstrated by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) and Bureau of Meteorology maps below.

Median projected changes in annual-average temperature

Source: K. Hennessy, et. al., An assessment of the impact of climate change on the nature and frequency of exceptional climatic events, Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, July 2008, p. 12.

However, the CSIRO 2008 report, An overview of climate change adaptation in Australian primary industries—impacts, options and priorities sets out adaptation options should agricultural production show signs of faltering.

In Australia, concerns will centre on our capacity to continue to export large volumes of food to feed less advantaged parts of the world as well as to supply nutritious foods to Australians at a reasonable cost. The current Senate inquiry into food production in Australia, examining Australia's food security, will examine threats to food affordability.

While many Australian farmers may be able to adapt, there could be nutritional consequences for some Australians and our neighbours unless further action is taken. For instance, the New South Wales Cancer Council, in response to their finding that there was inequitable access to fruit and vegetables in their 2008 food basket survey, suggested that:
To prevent the impact of price variability The Cancer Council NSW recommends that government price surveillance mechanisms be introduced, to ensure all families can afford to purchase and consume a healthy food basket.

Source: Cancer Council New South Wales, NSW Healthy food basket—cost availability and quality survey 2007, http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/editorial.asp?pageid=2389.

Food is not always readily available in Australia even at present. It has been estimated that one in 20 Victorians did not have the money to buy food on at least one occasion in 2005. VicHealth’s Food security fact sheet provides further statistics, including the fact that 6 per cent of Victorian children were in households that had been unable to provide food on a number of occasions per year.

Globally, the United Nations has estimated that the world's population will grow from 6.5 billion in 2005 to 9.1 billion in 2050, mostly in undeveloped regions. This, along with water, fertiliser and energy shortages, costs arising from emissions trading and labour shortages will add to the problem. Modelling has suggested an increase of between 5 to 10 per cent hungry people. Warmer oceans could increase the mercury uptake of fish with attendant neurotoxicity problems in humans dependent on fish diets.

The UK's chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, recently warned that not only would pressure on world food supplies increase with climate change because of decreased rainfall and crop failures in some food production areas but the food crisis would precede climate change.

It is likely that disturbances in agricultural production will disadvantage those with the least capacity to select and pay for nutritious foods.

On a global level, with respect to reduced nutritional levels, the IPCC’s 2007 Summary for policymakers warned of:
Increases in malnutrition and consequent disorders, with implications for child growth and development.

Source: IPCC, 'Summary for policymakers', in Climate change 2007—Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, p. 12..

Locally, one can extrapolate from current evidence about poor nutrition in Australia:

  1. In their submission to the ACCC VicHealth expressed concern that although compliance with healthy eating guidelines would keep considerable health costs arising from cardiovascular and cancer incidences in check, 90.1 per cent of Victorians did not comply with healthy eating guidelines for vegetables. It follows that the added burden of climate change would increase illness incidences due to dietary insufficiencies. Health costs will rise.
  2. Michael Gracey lists nutritional disorders apparent in indigenous Australians in both 1976 and 2007.This provides insight into the extremes of nutritional deficiency. Severe malnutrition, including marasmus and kwashi-orkor have diminished; nutritional disorders have halved over a 20 year period, but impaired growth and under nutrition still occurs. Nutrition disorders now include:
    overweight, obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus and chronic renal disease.
    While these are 'lifestyle diseases' shared across Australia, they occur at a higher rate than in the non-indigenous population.

    … limited access to affordable and nutritious foods, and poor understanding of health and nutrition all increase the risk of chronic disease in indigenous people.

Source: M. Gracey, 'Nutrition-related disorders in indigenous Australians—how things have changed', Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 186, no. 1, pp. 15–17.

Sources and further reading:

The Merck Manuals online medical library provides a guide to symptoms and disorders arising from undernutrition.

R. Few et al., Floods, health and climate change—a strategic review, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2004.

VicHealth, Submission to the ACCC inquiry into the competitiveness of retail prices for standard groceries, Melbourne, VicHealth, 11 March 2008.

C. Burns, A review of literature describing the link between poverty, food insecurity and obesity with specific reference to Australia, Melbourne, VicHealth, 2003.

D. Gunasekera et al., 'Climate change impacts on Australian agriculture', Australian commodities, December quarter, 2007, 07.4, p. 657–76.

K. Hennessy, et. al., An assessment of the impact of climate change on the nature and frequency of exceptional climatic events, Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, July 2008.

NSW healthy food basket cost, availability and quality survey, Sydney, The Cancer Council of New South Wales, 2008.

VicHealth, Food security, Fact sheet, VicHealth, Carlton South, April 2007.

'World population to increase by 2.6 billion over next 45 years with all growth occurring in less developed regions', United Nations Press release POP/918, 24 February 2005.

L. Ellistion and P. Glyde, 'Australian opportunities and challenges in the medium term', Australian commodities, vol. 15, pp. 25–9, 2008.

A. McMichael et al., 'Climate change and human health—present and future risks', The Lancet, vol. 367, 11 March 2006, pp. 859–69.

J. Randerson, 'Food crisis will take hold before climate change, warns chief scientist', The Guardian, Friday 7 March 2008.

IPCC, 'Summary for policymakers', in Climate change 2997—Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 7–22.

M. Gracey, 'Nutrition-related disorders in indigenous Australians—how things have changed', Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 186, no. 1, 1 January 2007, pp. 15–17.

 


22 October, 2010

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