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Food Hardship Report Highlights Lived Food Realities For Whanau

The first 1000 days of life have the potential to set us up for good health across our lives and are when good nutrition can have the greatest impact. But while good nutrition in early childhood is essential for growth, brain development, and the establishment of healthy eating behaviours, food insecurity in Aotearoa New Zealand is of growing concern. Although it comes as no surprise to Toi Tangata, the release of the University of Auckland and University of Otago’s Food Hardship and Early Childhood Nutrition Report has shone a worrying spotlight on the impacts food hardship has on young children’s nutrition.

The three types of food hardship the study focused on was whether families had:

• Been forced to buy cheaper food to pay for other things they needed.

• Gone without fresh fruit and vegetables because of cost.

• Used special food grants or food banks in the past 12 months.

The report highlights that nearly half of families struggle to access healthy food in their child’s first year of life with Māori and Pasifika families much more likely to have experienced all types of food hardship, and for food hardship to persist across the pre-school period.

Toi Tangata Kaiārahi, Haylee Koroi, is not surprised by the findings of the report and says the way the health system currently speaks to whānau about food is severely limited, focusing on aspects such as good and bad foods, and nutritional content that doesn’t resonate with families.

“It is so important that we take steps to ensure that all families can provide their children with healthy food during this time when their brains and bodies are growing so rapidly. When we speak to whānau we find that the way they relate to food systems is so broad; whānau Māori perceive food systems as much more than what it nutritionally contains or what it does, physically, for our bodies.”

“Our relationships to food are vast – kai connects us to place, to Atua, to whānau; It connects to our emotional, physical, and spiritual bodies. Our ability to connect to food systems in this way continues to be interrupted by western health systems, as well as social and environmental inequities. These systems impact on the food security of our whānau. By addressing these inequities and using the knowledge of our ancestors we can return to positive relationships with our kai,” says Koroi.

Toi Tangata acknowledges the government has made positive steps towards supporting communities to become food secure, but believes more needs to be done. It would be beneficial to look into kaupapa Māori frameworks and initiatives which increase the affordability, availability and promotion of healthy food as well as positive food environments to help whānau become more food secure. Economic stability and local infrastructure around food growth and distribution so communities can access locally grown kai is also a factor that needs to be considered.

About Toi Tangata

Toi Tangata is a national Māori agency which develops, delivers, and champions kaupapa Māori based approaches to kori (physical activity) and kai (nutrition). They are a team of specialists dedicated to health approaches informed by mātauranga Māori.

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