The Fred Hollows Foundation has called on the Australian Government to address critical gaps in the food security of remote Indigenous communities – questioning a report released yesterday which suggests that more viable stores means ‘more money is being spent on healthy foods'.
The Foundation's Manager of Indigenous Programs, Joy McLaughlin, is concerned that statements about the recent ORIC report strong corporations, strong stores, strong communities suggest a link between an increase in the viability and profitability of community stores, and the purchase of healthy food.
"I'm pleased that the report shows improvements in the viability of community stores and we welcome the Government's work in this area, but we can't find any real evidence that this increase in growth and profitability can be linked to an increase in spending on healthy, fresh foods," McLaughlin said.
"We remain very concerned about food security in outback community stores.
"When it costs less to buy a meat pie than to buy two apples, it's obvious that the system isn't working well enough and The Foundation is concerned that the government is missing an opportunity to address the real problem.
"Visit any of these community stores and you'll see the problems people here face. Why would you buy a frozen, healthy sandwich which turns soggy after it thaws out, when you can buy something fried for half the price?"
A lack of fresh food is acknowledged as a major contributor to poor health outcomes in remote Indigenous communities, accounting for as much as five per cent of the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The Fred Hollows Foundation supports and funds several projects in remote communities aimed at improving nutritional education, but McLaughlin believes no amount of health promotion will overcome barriers posed to low income people by the high cost of healthier food choices.
"The 2009 report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs - Everybody's Business made detailed recommendations to improve food security and affordability for people living in remote areas.
"Today I'd like re-state previous calls by The Foundation and by the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory for the Government to respond to this two-year-old report."
"The Foundation believes there is a strong case to consider subsidies for fresh fruit and vegetables in some isolated communities as a way of driving increased demand and improving the health of Indigenous people, particularly children."
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