Household food security and child health outcomes in families with children aged 6 months to 4 years residing in Darwin and Palmerston, Northern Territory, Australia

  • Leisa Mccarthy

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    There are few published studies on household food insecurity among Australian families with young children. Using quantitative and qualitative approaches, I conducted studies relating to food security among Indigenous and non-Indigenous children aged 0.5-4 years residing in Darwin and Palmerston. My main objectives were to;
    1. Explore urban Indigenous Australian families’ experiences of food security.
    2. Determine the performance of the US 18-item household food security module within Indigenous Australian families and families (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) with children attending child care centres.
    3. Identify factors that influence food security status within Indigenous Australian’ families and families (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) with children attending child care centres.
    4. Compare health parameters of children in food secure and food insecure households of families with children who attend child care centres.

    Within the Indigenous Australian families’ sample, a quantitative and qualitative approach was undertaken to address the first two objectives. I used a modified United States 18-item Household Food Security Module (mUS 18-item Module), and measures of social determinants and psychological distress (Kessler-10 scale). I found that Indigenous Australian families with young children experienced food insecurity and that there was a relationship between food insecurity and psychological distress, socio-economic and/or demographic factors. Qualitative findings showed that families deployed various strategies to combat food insecurity. The main strategy was using social networks, and this was reciprocated among extended family members. No families reported accessing charity agencies for support. Other strategies included putting off the paying of bills and purchasing cheaper foods.

    Objectives three and four were addressed through a study undertaken in 17 childcare centres. This study revealed that food insecurity was also experienced by families within this population. Regression analysis showed that use of public transport, higher psychological distress and/or where wanting to food shop, were associated with food insecurity status. Children in food insecure households were significantly more likely to be overweight but had similar haemoglobin levels to children in food secure households.

    As the mUS 18-item Module had not been used within the sampling populations, repeatability of the measure within a 2-week timeframe was undertaken. The kappa value showed fair agreement amongst the Indigenous Australian study population
    and excellent agreement among child care centre families.

    While my thesis identified factors that impacted on household food insecurity within families with young children and their coping strategies, future studies are required. This includes larger studies to better understand food insecurity as well as cognitive
    reliability testing of the mUS 18-item Module. As also noted, future policies and programs addressing families are likely to be more effective if include psychological distress and food insecurity screenings.
    Date of AwardJul 2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAnne Chang (Supervisor)

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