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Ioanna Katiforis

Otago PhD candidate Ioanna Katiforis says food insecurity is a 'very complex' problem.

When coming up with solutions for food insecurity, it’s important that the people directly affected are a part of the conversation, Otago PhD candidate Ioanna Katiforis says.

Katiforis, of the Department of Human Nutrition, is in the third year of her PhD looking into the impact food insecurity has on families with babies between the ages of 7 and 10 months.

Food insecurity is a “very complex” problem, and Katiforis would like to see the people who are directly affected by it be a part of any discussions around how the issue might be tackled.

“Just giving people food, or one-off money for food, isn’t going to be a quick fix.”

It is important to make sure the people “living with food insecurity” are heard from with regards to the specific problems they face in accessing food, to learn from them and involve them in solutions, she says.

“They’re the ones that know best.”

Parents want to maintain their independence and provide for their families in a manner that is socially acceptable to them, without having to borrow money to get by.

Food insecurity was first identified in Aotearoa New Zealand more than 20 years ago.

A report from 2015-2016, the most recent published report investigating food insecurity in households with children at a national level, showed at the time that 19% of households with children were moderately to severely food insecure.

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation, means the problem has become more widespread. People who previously weren’t experiencing food insecurity are now because they may have lost their job or no longer have the same amount of work they used to, Katiforis says. Families with infants are trying to manage the rising costs of living and expenses associated with raising their infants, whilst providing their children with nutritious foods.

Infants have specific nutritional requirements, that if not met, can affect them for life, she says.

They need to be putting on weight and eating nutrient-dense foods in their first two years of life, otherwise they can develop nutrient deficiencies that affect their growth and development.

“They’re so vulnerable.

“They’re completely dependent on their parents or caregivers for food, and they can’t access some of the initiatives older children can like Healthy School Lunches, or pre-school breakfast.”

Katiforis is one of several researchers working on the First Foods New Zealand study.

Katiforis says there are two parts to her research in the First Foods New Zealand study. The first part sees her looking at the nutritional intakes and infant feeding methods such as breastfeeding and the use of commercial baby food pouches, within 625 families from Tamaki Makaurau Auckland and Ōtepoti Dunedin. The second part sees her interviewing 15 mothers from Ōtepoti who are living in food insecure households about their experiences of providing food to their infants.

-Kōrero by internal communications adviser, Koren Allpress

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