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Shifting the social determinants of food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic: the Australian experience

Zorbas, C., Browne, J., Chung, A. , Peeters, A., Booth, S., Pollard, C., Allender, S., Isaacs, A., Hawkes, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-5091-878X & Backholer, K. (2022). Shifting the social determinants of food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic: the Australian experience. Food Security, doi: 10.1007/s12571-022-01318-4


We aimed to explore experiences of government-led actions on the social determinants of food insecurity during Australia’s COVID-19 pandemic response (which included novel, yet temporary, social protection measures to support Australians facing hardship during state-wide lockdowns). During November–December 2020, we conducted in-depth interviews with 24 Victorians who received government income support (prior to COVID-19) and the temporary COVID-19 specific payments. Interviews were guided by a theoretical understanding of the social determinants of health and health inequities, which we aligned to the social policy context. Data were audio-recorded, transcribed, inductively coded, categorised and thematically analysed. Our sample included mostly women (n = 19) and single parents (n = 13). Interviews reflected four key themes. Firstly, participants described ‘battles all around them' (i.e., competing financial, health and social stressors) that were not alleviated by temporary social policy changes and made healthy eating difficult to prioritise during the pandemic. Secondly, housing, income, job, and education priorities rendered food a lower and more flexible financial priority – even with 18 participants receiving temporary income increases from COVID-19 Supplements. Thirdly, given that food remained a lower and more flexible financial priority, families continued to purchase the cheapest and most affordable options (typically less healthful, more markedly price discounted). Finally, participants perceived the dominant public and policy rhetoric around income support policies and healthy eating to be inaccurate and shaming – often misrepresenting their lived experiences, both prior to and during COVID-19. Participants reported entrenched struggles with being able to afford basic living costs in a dignified manner during COVID-19, despite temporary social protection policy changes. To reduce inequities in population diets, a pre-requisite to health, all stakeholders must recognise an ongoing responsibility for adopting long-term food and social policies that genuinely improve lived experiences of food insecurity and poverty.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: COVID-19, Health equity, Social determinants, Food insecurity, Food policy, Social policy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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