Are you getting enough to eat? How food insecurity in Australia is socially understood

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Daunders, M, Moloney, G &Smith, G 2017, 'Are you getting enough to eat? How food insecurity insecurity in Australia is socially understood', abstract presented to the Southern Cross University 14th Annual Honours Psychology Research Conference, Southern Cross University, Coffs Harbour, 5-6 October.

Abstract available on Open Access


Food insecurity is a growing social crisis in Australia. Eighteen percent of the population are unable to access nutritious food, with a diversity of social groups affected, including university students, the elderly and those living in rural and remote areas of Australia. Despite this, there is a lack of awareness and research about this issue. Aim: This research draws from social representations theory to investigate what is socially understood about food insecurity in Australia, and examines whether these understandings are mediated by personal experience and age. Social representations theory posits that unfamiliar ideas and issues come to be understood through a process of ‘anchoring’, whereby new ideas/issues are understood through existing knowledge systems. Method: An online survey, completed by a university sample (N = 491), comprised of word association tasks that asked participants to list the first words that sprung to mind when they thought about people experiencing food insecurity, the groups who experienced food insecurity, along with the reasons why. Participants also completed a 13-item Food Insecurity scale, adapted from Davids & Gouws (2011). Results: Frequency analysis of the word associations revealed that food insecurity was anchored in a network of meanings associated with ‘poor’ and ‘homeless’, suggesting that the diversity of groups who experience food insecurity are not associated with the issue. The reasons for food insecurity coalesced around ‘financially being unable to afford food’. Exploratory factor analysis of the 13 items revealed three sub-scales: access to food, attributions, and fairness of experiencing food insecurity. Participants who had no personal experience of food insecurity reported significantly higher mean scale scores for the access and attribution sub-scales, and lower scores on the fairness sub-scale, than those with experience of food insecurity. No significant differences were found for age. Conclusion: The results indicated that unless food insecurity has been personally experienced, little is known about the issue by society, apart from its association with poverty and homelessness. While many people experiencing food insecurity do live in poverty, the strong association with homelessness obscures its devastating effect on other groups, such as the elderly and those in rural and remote areas of Australia.

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