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Myriad issues compounding poor health among WA's youth revealed as govt launches inquiry

Giovanni Torre -

The Western Australian Government's inquiry into food insecurity for children will find it is a "very real issue" creating vulnerability and inducing poor health for Indigenous people, experts say.

And WA's north feels the pinch due to food insecurity more than most, according to a host of Boab Health Services professionals who spoke to the National Indigenous Times.

Dieticians Mandy Cripps, Tara Rawson and Isabelle Walker, and paediatric dieticians Aimee Sullivan and Sally Conte said a large proportion of children and youth seen by Boab present with issues such as growth faltering, iron deficiency and obesity, often stemming from varying levels of food insecurity.

In a joint response, the group said many factors drive food insecurity at an individual and systemic level, including weather, remoteness, environment, power supply, poverty, unemployment, high staff turnover and a lack of locally produced food, all of which drive up the price of food.

"The Kimberley Region has people who are amongst the most disadvantaged in Australia paying the most for their food," they said.

Boab also identified the lack of personal transport to purchase food, overcrowded housing, a lack of adequate cooking facilities, trans-generational trauma and significant rates of poor mental health.

The Boab dieticians said it was important any solutions to the crisis were co-designed and community driven.

"There is an obvious need for crisis food provision - giving food to those in need short term - as well as a longer-term strategic approach," they said.

"One off food provision alone is ultimately a band-aid approach and over time can create a dependency on the service and further embed an imbalance of power.

"The scale and complexity of the food insecurity issue needs to be acknowledged to enable more funding, time, and prioritisation to be given towards reducing the significant gap which currently exists."

Empty shelves in the Kimberley. Picture: ABC

The Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People inquiry will consider the effectiveness of food relief and food literacy programs and other initiatives to address food insecurity.

The Committee will also consider how poor nutrition impacts children, the challenges children from poor families face in accessing enough nutritious food and ways to monitor food stress and child wellbeing.

Committee chair Robyn Clarke said the inquiry needed to address the causes of poverty long-term, and helping children who were going hungry now.

"As the Commissioner for Children and Young People's most recent Speaking Out Survey found, 10 per cent of students say that there is only sometimes enough food for them to eat at home," she said.

"Not having enough good food to eat impacts on learning and life outcomes, and we are keen to see what can be done to help children in this situation."

WA Council of Social Service research and policy development leader Chris Twomey said poor childhood nutrition increased the risk of developmental delay and chronic diseases.

"All kids deserve the right to access a healthy balanced diet so they can grow to reach their full potential. Children in a wealthy country like Australia should not be going without," he said.

The Committee is particularly interested in hearing about the experiences of Indigenous children, as well as the children of refugees and newly arrived migrants.

Submissions to the inquiry close 10 June this year.

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