16 September 2020 (Wednesday) – Food insecurity is defined as a state when a household does not have, or is not confident of having, economic and physical access to sufficient, acceptable food for a healthy life. The Singapore Management University (SMU)’s Lien Centre for Social Innovation (LCSI) recently completed the first nationally representative study on food insecurity in Singapore.
Commissioned by The Food Bank Singapore, the study follows a 2018 report, “Hunger in a Food Lover’s Paradise: Understanding Food Insecurity in Singapore”—a smaller-scale investigation that focused on 236 low socio-economic status (SES) households. The Hunger Report 2019 is a nationally representative study involving customised random samples bought from the Department of Statistics. A total of 1,206 usable surveys were collected from Singaporean households between July and December 2019, and the report looked into the prevalence, causes and consequences of food insecurity in Singapore.
Despite Singapore being ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the most food-secure nation in the world on the Global Food Security Index in 2019, this study reveals a paradox. Singapore has done well in terms of achieving sufficiency of food supply through a strategic diversification of food sources; however, this progress has not prevented certain sections of the country’s population from reporting food insecurity. 10.4% of Singaporean households (citizens and/or permanent residents) surveyed experienced food insecurity at least once in the last 12 months, out of which two out of five of these households experienced food insecurity at least once a month.
According to Nichol Ng, co-founder of the Food Bank Singapore, “Food insecurity is a concern even in an affluent society such as Singapore. The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated this problem exponentially with people suffering from pay cuts and job losses. The Food Bank Singapore sees food as the defining denominator when gauging how severe someone’s situation is. We must do all that we can to ensure that food insecurity becomes history and that no one goes hungry in our country.”
Key findings of survey
1) Food-insecure households were more likely to reside in 1- and 2-room HDB homes compared to food-secure households.
2) Food-insecure families tended to have heads of households with lower educational qualifications (much less likely to have a university-level education) than food-secure families.
3) Only 22% of food-insecure households were currently receiving food support. A substantial percentage of food-insecure participants did not seek food support, citing embarrassment, being unaware of available food support and the belief that others need it more than themselves.
4) Food insecurity was associated with both physical and mental health detriments. Food-insecure participants were more likely to be in the high-risk BMI category compared to food-secure participants. Food-insecure individuals reported a slew of negative emotions demonstrating the psychological impact of food insecurity.
5) Food-secure households had significantly fewer affiliations with food-insecure households compared to those who were food-insecure.
1) Tackle misalignment of food support
Geographical mapping of areas where vulnerable households reside can aid in identifying food-insecure neighbourhoods and informing food aid organisations. At the national level, more strategic coordination of food support should involve multi-sector partnerships that encompass the relevant and diverse stakeholders in the food support ecosystem. These include the government, and non-profit and private sectors.
2) Increase the level of awareness about food insecurity in Singapore
The lack of awareness about food insecurity in Singapore, especially among food-secure households, warrants attention and action. Information and education on food insecurity is required in order to cultivate empathy and awareness that this is a pertinent issue in Singapore.
3) Prioritise nutritious and healthy eating among Singapore households
Rigorous national campaigns to encourage healthy eating should continue and be further amplified. As cost was listed as a major deterrent to choosing healthier food options, this aspect should be further explored. If healthier food options do not necessarily mean higher costs, this message should be incorporated into healthy eating campaigns.
The researchers of this study note that some of the report’s recommendations are being addressed through the ongoing efforts of the Charity Food Workgroup, which was convened by the Ministry of Social and Family Development in 2019. The multi-sector Workgroup – comprising food aid organisations, volunteers, corporates, and government agencies – seeks to improve coordination and efficiency within the charity food sector. This allows households in need to receive food support that suits their requirements, thereby also reducing wastage.
The full report can be downloaded from here.