Harnessing community expertise in designing decision support systems to understand and act on food insecurity in local government settings in the UK and Australia

Food insecurity - the limited or uncertain availability of individuals’ and households’ physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious and culturally relevant food - is a complex, persistent and multidimensional issue. Despite abundant food and relative wealth, food insecurity is increasingly experienced in high-income countries. Household food security is not consistently or robustly measured in Australia or the UK, but conservative estimates indicate that over 4% of Australians and 8% of people residing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, are living in a food insecure household.

It is well-documented that those experiencing food insecurity compromise on quantity and nutritional quality of food, go without food, experience anxiety, stress and social isolation. Food insecurity impacts the physical, social and emotional health of the population across the lifespan and specifically the development and educational attainment of children and adolescents, making it a serious public health issue. There are multiple influencing and interrelated factors that contribute to food insecurity. The major predictor of food insecurity however is low income for purchasing food and other commodities in a household.

The responsibility for ensuring food security at any government level is at best limited and this challenge is intensified due to the associated factors listed above cutting across multiple government departments. In Australia and the UK the dominant response has been to provide people with emergency food relief through the charitable sector, for example via food banks. There has been an unprecedented expansion of the charitable food sector in response to an increased usage of food banks. However, charity does not address the causes of food security and is powerless to prevent households from falling into food insecurity or help them escape it.

Through the Monash Warwick Alliance Dr Sue Kleve and Dr Martine Barons will focus on engaging with policymakers, experts by experience and front-line workers to ensure every aspect of the causal pathways for food insecurity is taken into account properly within the statistical modelling. They will do this both in Cardinia Shire, Victoria and Warwickshire, UK to compare and contrast the systems and experiences. The eventual aim is to build an integrated food security decision support system for addressing food security at national and local levels. The system will combine various sources of data (on income, housing, employment and food costs) to produce a robust and transparent way in order to provide a score for each potential policy change. This will enable Governments to make evidence-based policy decisions that will address the source of food insecurity.

Principle applicants

Dr Sue Kleve

Dr Sue Kleve

Lecturer, Dept of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food, Monash University

Dr Martine Barons

Dr Martine Barons

Director of the Applied Statistics & Risk Unit, University of Warwick

Co-applicants

Dr Julie Brimblecombe, Associate Professor, Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food, Monash University

Professor Jim Smith, Professor, Department of Statistics, University of Warwick