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

Christina Zorbas, Jennifer Browne, Alexandra Chung, Anna Peeters, Sue Booth, Christina Pollard, Steven Allender, Anna Isaacs, Corinna Hawkes, Kathryn Backholer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-170
Number of pages20
JournalFood Security
Issue number1
Early online date17 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Food insecurity
  • Food policy
  • Health equity
  • Social determinants
  • Social policy


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