Improving food security in Aboriginal communities

Project title: A systems perspective on the prevention of chronic disease for urban Aboriginal communities: Improving food security

Start date: 1 July 2016

Estimated end date: 31 December 2017

What is the issue?

Food insecurity is a serious challenge facing Aboriginal communities in Australia. As many as one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in non-remote environments live in a household that has run out of food and could not afford to buy more at some point within the past 12 months. Food insecurity is associated with general poor health, and contributes to health inequalities that are apparent in Aboriginal populations such as a higher mortality rate, and higher rates of diet-related chronic disease.

How is the project addressing the issue?

The proposed project will be embedded within the Study of Environment on Aboriginal Resilience and Child Health (SEARCH), which is a partnership between the Sax Institute, Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council, researchers and four Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) in NSW.

The project seeks to better understand the systemic factors contributing to food insecurity among Aboriginal communities and to identify barriers and potential areas for whole-of-system interventions to tackle food security in two urban Aboriginal communities linked to ACCHSs participating in the SEARCH program.

The research will be conducted in four parts:

  • Using semi-structured qualitative interviews, the project will explore the perspectives, knowledge, beliefs and experiences of the Aboriginal community including families, leaders and staff at the ACCHSs as well as that of a range of stakeholders in local council, government and NGOs in the health, education, planning and food safety sectors and food industry partners on food insecurity, the factors that influence it and potential strategies for intervention
  • Facilitate a group model building exercise with a range of stakeholders from local government and other partners to develop a comprehensive, multi-strategic, multi-sectoral whole of system approach to tackling food security
  • Facilitate the development of a draft food security framework using the recommendations for the strengthening of local food systems that identifies important strategies, determinants and points of intervention
  • Develop a strategic implementation plan that incorporates potential new activities into local policies, plans and programs to promote an ongoing structure for inter-sectoral leadership and action.

Relevance for practice

Information and data gathered through this project will be used to create a food security framework for implementation in urban Aboriginal settings. The project will also foster effective partnerships between government organisations and other agencies to improve the coordination of food security initiatives.

What are the expected outcomes?

The framework and guidelines are expected to lead to opportunities for local action to improve food security. This will lead to actions that will support equitable food systems and the supply of nutritious food, and thereby reduce the burden of obesity and chronic disease in this population.


Project lead:

Associate Professor Sumithra Muthayya, Sax Institute

Project team:

“We acknowledge the invaluable input into this project of our colleague, mentor, and above-all friend, Associate Professor Sonia Wutzke (1970–2017). The public health community is richer for having had you as one of its most passionate advocates.

This project was funded by the NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, NSW Ministry of Health, ACT Health and the HCF Research Foundation.


NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, NSW Government Health, HCF Research Foundation, ACT Government Health, hosted by Sax Institute

  • Data analyses and preparation of manuscript on systemic factors and barriers contributing to food insecurity in urban Aboriginal communities are underway
  • Data from this project were given as evidence on the issue of fresh food pricing and food insecurity affecting vulnerable communities in NSW as part of a NSW parliamentary inquiry





  • Presentation of findings by Dr Sumithra Muthayya and Simone Sheriff at the 6th Annual NHMRC Symposium on Research Translation, co-hosted by the Lowitja Institute and NHMRC, Brisbane, 14-15 November 2017