HEALTH

Malnutrition Traps Children Of Remote Australia In Poverty

We make sure everyone has access to the internet, but not fruit and vegetables.

20/10/2016 10:24 AM AEDT | Updated 21/10/2016 3:58 PM AEDT
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David Trood
Regional and remote children need access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

On any given day in a regional Australian hospital, 44 percent of children admitted have signs of malnutrition.

In our wealthy nation, where no one starves, National Rural Health Alliance research details an epidemic of malnutrition in regional and remote areas, and it's affecting children's development for the rest of their life.

Chief executive officer Kim Webber told The Huffington Post Australia that the problem isn't that there is no food -- it's that there is the wrong kind of food available.

"A lot of Australians don't realise how hard it can be to access affordable fruit and vegetables in regional areas," Webber told HuffPost Australia.

We consider electricity and water to be vital parts of society -- we even have universal access to the Internet -- but we don't have anything like that for fresh fruit and vegetables.Kim Webber

"To get there, the supply chains are long and expensive, and the communities of 1000 or 500 people aren't big enough to have that buying power. There are no subsidies, it's all the private market so regular fruit and vegetables end up being very expensive.

"Grey nomads have a better idea of the issues, because they've driven through the areas.

Getty Images
Fresh food is expensive in regional areas.

"A woman in Wilcannia said she went to make her child a cake, and a tub of butter and a 2L milk cost $14."

Webber said this often results in a diet of poor quality, processed food. Early malnutrition affects all aspects of a child's life, from stunting intelligence to affecting concentration at school.

"We're setting people up for poor health and wellbeing over their whole life because we consider electricity and water to be vital parts of society -- we even have universal access to the Internet -- but we don't have anything like that for fresh fruit and vegetables."

University of Melbourne Chair of Indigenous Health, Kerry Arabena, is leading a program called First 1000 Days Australia project that seeks to ensure children have adequate nutrition right from before conception through to about two years of age.

We know food insecurity among pregnant women has a likely impact of lower birthrates, increased risk of birth defects, and a real risk of poor brain growth and development.Kerry Arabena

"Basically before a woman becomes pregnant, it's really critical they have access to good fresh food because their health and wellbeing secures that of their children," Arabena said.

"We know food insecurity among pregnant women has a likely impact of lower birthrates, increased risk of birth defects, and a real risk of poor brain growth and development."

"International studies show that children who are malnourished in the first year of life have impaired growth, lower IQs and poor scholastic achievement."

Webber said Australia needed to find ways to ensure all people had access to affordable, nutritious food.

"Otherwise it's a vicious cycle of disadvantage," Webber said.

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