Improving Aboriginal food security and diet

Project title: Improving Aboriginal food security and dietary intake: Approaches for remote and urban communities

Start date: February 2018

Estimated end date: December 2021

What is the issue?

Poor diet is a major contributor to the high levels of mortality and morbidity experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience significant diet-related health inequities, such as higher rates of overweight/obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and infant malnutrition. More than 80% of this excess burden of chronic disease is preventable, with the largest proportion of this attributable to poor diet.

Many complex factors influence food insecurity and nutrition in Aboriginal communities, including distance to healthy food outlets, transport limitations, the high cost of food, ability to cook healthy meals and the time taken to shop and cook healthy food. Previous research at the Prevention Centre has shown that these problems exist both in urban as well as remote communities.

While influences on Aboriginal diet are undoubtedly complex, previous research in remote areas has demonstrated that it is possible to achieve rapid, sustained improvements in objective measures of food security, dietary intake, nutrition status, and other risk factors for chronic disease. However, successful approaches have not been widely translated into practice, and to date, nutrition has not been a focus of policy to address Indigenous disadvantage.

How is the project addressing the issue?

This project will be implemented in two phases. Phase one will focus on improving food security and nutrition among Aboriginal communities in remote areas with a focus on Mai Wiru stores in communities on the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia. The second phase will focus on issues of food security and nutrition among urban Aboriginal communities, building on Prevention Centre research, and utilising the established research asset of SEARCH (the Study of Environment on Aboriginal Resilience and Child Health).

What are the expected outcomes?

The project plans to:

  • Identify the barriers and potential areas for whole-of-system interventions to improve food security in urban Aboriginal communities
  • Implement and evaluate the impact of interventions to improve food security and dietary intake in five remote Aboriginal communities
  • Develop a food security framework and strategic implementation plan to improve food security among urban and remote Aboriginal groups.

Relevance for practice

This project will demonstrate achievable, effective, low-cost, translatable, scalable and sustained ways of improving food security and diet in Aboriginal communities.

Source for top image: Gina Lyons, Irrunytju WA. Photo by Suzanne Bryce, NPY Women’s Council.

Project leads

Professor Amanda Lee, University of Queensland

Associate Professor Sumithra Muthayya, Sax Institute

Project team

Researchers working on approaches for remote communities 

Kirsty Elliott, Research Assistant

Meron Lewis, Research Assistant

Ella Parnell Harrison, Research Assistant

Rhiannon Hutchinson, NPWYC Nutrition Project Officer

Dr Misa Matsuyama, University of Queensland

Researchers for this stage of the project also included staff of the NPY Women’s Council’s Nutrition Program, three part-time research officers (data analysis, nutrition promotion and evaluation), and local community members.

Researchers working on approaches for urban communities 

Professor Sandra Eades, University of Melbourne

Tangerene Ingram, Riverina Medical and Dental Aboriginal Corporation

Darryl Wright, Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation, Campbelltown

Nathan Jones, South Western Sydney Local Health District

Karen Beetson, South Western Sydney Local Health District

Tina Taylor, Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation, Campbelltown

Simone Sherriff, Sax Institute

Janice Nixon, Sax Institute

Jacqueline Davison, Sax Institute

Deanna Kalucy, Sax Institute

Amy Gilchrist, Riverina Medical and Dental Aboriginal Corporation

Natalie Smith, Riverina Medical and Dental Aboriginal Corporation






Funding for this research has been provided from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The MRFF provides funding to support health and medical research and innovation, with the objective of improving the health and wellbeing of Australians. MRFF funding has been provided to The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre under the MRFF Boosting Preventive Health Research Program. Further information on the MRFF is available at

Remote communities

  • Baseline data reports on the availability, affordability, accessibility and acceptability of foods on the APY Lands have been completed. Read the Store nutrition report Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Survey date April 2018 here.
  • The project is deep in the implementation phase. All community-based nutrition promotion activities are going well and according to plan with a high level of engagement of community members.
  • The mid-point store surveys were conducted on the APY Lands in January 2019 and results analysed and reported in the Store nutrition report Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Survey date January 2019 here.
  • The intervention component of the project to improve food security by increasing supply of and demand for healthy food in two remote Aboriginal communities has been completed. The revised Mai Wiru store nutrition policy, describing policy actions implemented throughout the project, has been drafted.
  • Preliminary results are looking very positive. Data analysis and reporting are underway.

Urban and regional communities

  • Produced reports on the group model building (GMB) workshops in Campbelltown and Wagga Wagga. These reports are now being considered for action by Ad the project’s Advisory Group partners in both locations.
  • As a result of the GMB workshop in Wagga, several mainstream welfare providers are now working closely with RivMed ACCHS to supplement their food relief program to Aboriginal community members and are looking for ways they can further link together.
  • Discussions with RivMed ACCHS and Tharawal ACCHS have helped provide clearer expectations of their respective roles in supporting the goals of this project, providing the appropriate team members for the Advisory Groups and developing a draft framework for monitoring and evaluation.
  • Sumithra Muthayya and Jacqueline Davison presented findings from this project at the Prevention Centre Investigator Forum held online in early March 2020 on ‘A systems approach to improving food security among urban Aboriginal communities’.
  • The project was presented to the online World Congress of Public Health Nutrition (from 30 April 2020).
  • The project team have developed a discussion and planning tool for addressing food security in urban settings for wider community use.
  • Our project has influenced inclusion of food security into the National Preventive Health Strategy Consultation Paper.

Summary Results Brief





  • Jacqueline Davison. Prevention through Collaboration: Using systems mapping to inform community-led solutions to food insecurity. Public Health Association of Australia’s Preventive Health Conference 2020. 19 May 2020
  • Muthayya S and Davison J. A systems approach to improving food security among urban Aboriginal communities. Prevention Centre Investigator Forum,  March 2020.
  • Muthayya S and Davison J. A systems approach to improving food security among urban Aboriginal communities. World Congress of Public Health Nutrition (from 30 April 2020).
  • Simone Sherriff presented the project, as part of her Poche Indigenous Leadership Fellowship, to Professor Sir Michael Marmot and Dr Ian Henderson, Director Menzies Australia Institute at King’s College, London, UK. 17 May 2019.
  • Professor Sumithra Muthayya, presented the project at the SEARCH Investigators Forum, included all Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services CEOs participating in the food security work.14 May 2019.

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