Health promotion and food insecurity: exploring environmental sustainability principles to guide practice within Australia
Exploring the potential of health promotion to use environmental sustainability principles to guide the development of health promotion food security programs in Australia.
Australia’s domestic food supply assures a level of food security for many people, but an estimated two million Australians, half of them children, face food insecurity. Health promotion forms a key part of the Australian public health sector and is tasked with addressing food insecurity for vulnerable populations. The sector is noted for its social determinants perspective on food insecurity, recognising the multiple factors that can affect food security such as social isolation and exclusion, poverty and income security, access to healthy, culturally appropriate food, and food preparation and literacy skills.
However, despite being critical for addressing the complex social and economic factors contributing to food insecurity, environmental factors are not generally considered. This is problematic, as the world, including Australia, faces unprecedented environmental challenges such as soil degradation, excessive water use, biodiversity loss and climate change. Industrialised food systems contribute significantly to these issues, even as they ensure large increases in food production and year-round access to healthy foods. The current food system has been described as ‘life-degrading’ rather than ‘life-sustaining’ or ‘life-enhancing’.
The possibilities for integrating health promotion and environmental sustainability principles hold promise for addressing the multifaceted issues inherent within food security practice. However, there is a lack of existing principles for guiding the sector to address food security that is cognisant of both human health and the environment.
This study, led by Dr Sonia Nuttman, explored the potential of health promotion to use environmental sustainability principles to guide the development of health promotion food security programs in Australia. The researchers found that health promotion practitioners were adopting principles of environmental sustainability, such as ecological integrity and biodiversity, to guide food security practice, demonstrating the compatibility of such principles within health promotion practice. However, the study also revealed that environmental sustainability principles are a relatively new area of practice for health promotion practitioners and there is a lack of integration between environmental sustainability and health promotion principles to guide food security practice. The sector should consider developing a set of principles to include both health promotion and environmental sustainability to ensure future food security and planetary health. Capacity building of current practitioners and pre-service graduations around the use of such principles to guide practice could assist in this process.