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"Food security is a health issue for New Zealanders" - Lauren Ensor, Heath Promotion Manager, Nelson Marlborough Public Health

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Lauren Ensor (right), the Health Promotion Manager of Nelson Marlborough Public Health explains what defines food security, why it's a concern now more than ever, and what initiatives are available to support whānau with improving food security.


Food security is a key issue for the health of New Zealanders. While rates of food insecurity have been of concern in New Zealand for a long time, COVID-19 and the associated increases in the cost of living have further exacerbated the problem. Food Security is defined as sustainable access to affordable and nutritious kai.

Approximately 14% of New Zealand are ‘Food Insecure’, making putting healthy kai on the table each day a significant challenge and needing assistance (i). 


Food Insecurity & Health Outcomes:

Food insecurity is associated with detrimental health outcomes such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and micronutrient deficiencies (ii). The New Zealand Health Survey 2020/21 found that 1 in 3 adults were classified as obese (34.3%), up from 31.2% in 2019/20 a massive 9% increase (iii).

New Zealand adults, for example, are the 3rd most obese in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member states, whilst children living in New Zealand are the 2nd most obese in the OECD. We also have the 3rd highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the OECD (iv).


Food Security in New Zealand:

The 2008/09 New Zealand National Nutrition Survey indicated that only three out of five households were classified as almost or fully food secure. With the cost of living rising, the number of food insecure households is likely to be much greater in 2022.

Households in neighbourhoods with higher levels of deprivation were less likely to be food secure, as were Māori and Pacific households. (v)


Importance of Food Security for Children:

For almost one in five children, their household experiences severe to-moderate food insecurity. These children may be missing out on adequate and nutritious food, the ingredients that are so essential to every aspect of their lives.

The evidence shows that children in food-insecure households fare worse than children in food-secure households on indicators of health, development, and access to health services.

For example, children in food-insecure households were significantly more likely to experience barriers to accessing health care, not meet fruit and vegetable consumption guidelines, eat breakfast at home for fewer than five days per week, eat fast food and drink fizzy drinks three or more times a week, be obese or overweight, and less likely to be a healthy weight (vi).


What is Food Stress?

Food stress occurs when a household needs to spend more than 25% of its disposable income on food. Most families on low incomes will need to spend a much higher percentage of their income to purchase ‘basic’ healthy foods and many will experience ‘food stress’. Families need to spend between 23-53% of their net income and 42-75% once rent is deducted, to purchase a ‘basic’ healthy diet (vii).

Initiatives & Support Available:

Community-based food projects such as community gardens, food cooperatives, and fruit and veg swaps have the potential to impact food insecurity at a local community level.

They offer the opportunity of healthy food at a lower cost to those in need, particularly if they are part of a comprehensive population-based approach to improving food security and issues of sustainability are addressed (viii).

There are several great examples across Te Tauihu of community-led food initiatives and further support is needed in this space alongside continued advocacy for policies and system changes to make putting healthy kai on the table every day achievable for all.


Find tips and resources for healthy kai during wintertime here


(i) Huang, B., Comeau, D. J., Conklin, J. A., & O'Gorman, P. E. (2020). Assessing the Current State of Food Insecurity in New Zealand. 

(ii) Carter, K et al. 2010. What are the determinants of food insecurity in New Zealand and does this differ for males and females? Aust NZ J Public Health. 2010; online doi: 10.1111/j.1753-6405.2010.00615 

(iii) Ministry of Health. 2022. Obesity Statistics. 

(iv) OECD. 2017. Health policy in New Zealand

(v) Ministry of Health. 2010. A Focus on Nutrition: Key Findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey, page 259-273

(vi) Ministry of Health. 2019. Household Food Insecurity Among Children in New Zealand. Wellington: Ministry of Health. 

(vii) The Cancer Council NSW. 2007. NSW Healthy Food Basket: Cost, Availability and Quality Survey. 

(viii) Enhancing Food Security and Physical Activity for Māori, Pacific and Low-income Peoples, 2009