The healthy food gap

There is not just a healthcare gap in Indigenous communities, but a healthy food gap too.

A recent trip with my dad and uncle to the edge of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory was one third amazing, one third eye opening and one third baffling.

The amazing part couldn’t even begin to be covered here. As for the eye opening and the baffling parts, I will now attempt to describe them to you.

We live in a country where the health of Indigenous Australians is not where it should be. The facts don’t lie when they estimate the lifespan of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be approximately a decade lower than that of the non-Indigenous population.

The relatively quick transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a Westernised food environment has meant a quick transition to chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The long-time efficient metabolism of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, primed to survive in food famine, means that a Western diet – high in sugary drinks, refined carbohydrates and saturated, fat-laden snacks – can lead to their bodies going into ‘fat storage mode’. When centralised, this stored body fat (adipose tissue) may result in an increased risk of health problems.

“A few hundred grams of refrigerated chopped vegetables for $10. Oats at $12 a kilo. Tinned fruit at $15 a kilo, if you’re lucky.”

The eye-opening part of my pilgrimage was the sheer isolation found an eight hours’ drive southeast of Darwin. The baffling part was seeing what food was for sale, and at what price, at the only food store in the region.

A few hundred grams of refrigerated chopped vegetables for $10. Oats at $12 a kilo. Tinned fruit at $15 a kilo, if you’re lucky.

In contrast, shelves were stacked with cheap cordial, soft drinks, Zooper Doopers, sweet biscuits, white dry biscuits and other processed, packaged pleasures.

In my opinion, our nation’s number one health priority should be to improve the nutritional health of Indigenous Australians, and certainly effort and resources are being put into this. So why is this shop virtually promoting processed food and discouraging healthy food?

“Let’s dial up the dialogue on improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by creating a food environment that is conducive to healthy eating.”

Surely to make any real improvements, the local food environment ought to be priced to encourage consumption of healthy food. This means not only making healthy food affordable, but thinking further – investments in Indigenous health could be redirected into creating an environment where healthy food costs a lot less than processed food.

With all the talk on sugar taxes going on in the UK, it would be interesting to look at how similar ideas could support the health of Indigenous Australians.

Let’s dial up the dialogue on improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by creating a food environment that is conducive to healthy eating. And for health programs that are already focused on this, be sure to know that you have the backing of many of us, rural and city folk alike.

Because if you want your loved ones to eat well, you would ensure that healthy food was within arm’s reach, right?

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