Improving young people’s access to healthy food

All kids should be guaranteed access to the healthy food they need to live, play and learn through the day. But not every kid gets that chance.

Research shows that young people who already experience structural barriers to good health are disproportionately unable to access and enjoy healthy and culturally appropriate food due to multiple and complex barriers such as cost, proximity, and availability.

VicHealth are calling on startups to support young people to access healthy food that is affordable and culturally appropriate in their communities.

This is an opportunity to learn startup and co-design principles to drive the development of youth led solutions that address the barriers young people face to accessing healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food.

We’re asking:

How might we develop youth led solutions that enable young people to access healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food in their local community, and feel more connected to their local food system

The Problem

Access to healthy, affordable food is a significant issue in Victoria. This was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 18% of participants completing the VicHealth Coronavirus Victorian Wellbeing Impact Study reporting that they relied on unhealthy, low-cost food due to financial concerns. A reliance on ultra-processed foods contributes to poorer health outcomes including overweight and obesity, and other chronic non-communicable diseases.

Food access is more complex than simply the ability to buy food. The World Health Organisation have defined food access as ‘the capacity to acquire and consume a nutritious diet’ including:

  • The ability to buy and transport food
  • Home storage, preparation and cooking facilities
  • Knowledge and skills to make appropriate choices
  • And time and mobility to shop for and prepare food

We know that there are multiple and complex barriers that prevent children, young people and their families of multicultural and First Nations backgrounds living in regional and outer metro areas from accessing and enjoying healthy, locally sourced, culturally appropriate food. People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can experience difficulties finding food suppliers who provide culturally appropriate food. For First Nations people, they are less likely to have access to larger supermarkets that provide affordable healthy food, with food being more expensive in rural areas. The ability to access culturally appropriate food is important for people of multicultural and First Nations backgrounds given food is a valuable component of cultural practices, allowing people to feel connected to their country and identity.

In remote areas problems contributing to access issues include food deserts, where there are few grocery stores available; fewer large supermarkets which can mean prices in smaller shops are higher; and a high number of fast-food outlets compared to healthy food shops. We also know that regional location is a predictor of healthy food items not being available in stores. Furthermore, for some areas inadequate or unreliable public transport can create issues for accessing healthy food.

The 2014 Victorian Population Health survey found that young people aged 18-34 were most likely to experience food insecurity (making up 40% of the food insecure population of Victoria). Furthermore, VicHealth consultation has found that young people want access to healthy, affordable food, with cost and location being identified as barriers.

The Call to Startups

The solution to this challenge should address one or more of the barriers people experience in accessing affordable and healthy food that meets their cultural needs, considering alternative ways of accessing food beyond just purchasing food.

For example, this might include the below:

  • Connecting young people with existing or potential community gardens and opportunities to leverage existing food networks (e.g. volunteer opportunities where young people are reimbursed for their time with healthy food)
  • Making it easier and more enjoyable to grow your own food at home
  • Providing young people with information on how to prepare healthy meals, rather than relying on ultra-processed foods
  • Informing young people of where healthy food is, in relation to them

In developing a solution to address any of the above areas, startups should be mindful of potential barriers that young people may face in engaging with the solution, and identify ways to mitigate these where possible. For example, you might need to consider access to transport, financial restraints, culture, and education.

Young people are a motivated and enthusiastic group that are central to developing solutions in the food systems space. Consultations conducted by VicHealth with young people identified that food systems are an area that is not talked about, though there is interest in active participation.

We are therefore interested in solutions that account for young people’s voices, particularly where they are enabled to contribute to its development. We want young people to be part of developing the solution, and we want young people to access the end product to share and learn from each other (e.g. build/update content, connect with each other etc.).

VicHealth is also interested in solutions that consider the needs of diverse groups (e.g. young people from multicultural backgrounds and First Nations young people) and are therefore culturally safe.

We are working towards a Victoria where all young people are supported to access affordable, culturally appropriate, nutritious food, in their local community.

  • Food Relief (the primary focus should not be on food relief, however if this formed part of the solution that would be in scope). Non-digital tools that address this challenge. A solution that duplicates an existing project or tool (eg. A platform providing healthy recipes).

  • Stage: The best applicants will have an idea or solution that can be refined during the pre-accelerator, informed by VicHealth experts, and where a prototype may be built. You will come with a unique and creative way of thinking about the issue. Solution: Over the six week pre-accelerator, selected applicants will develop a tool that addresses one or more barriers experienced by young people to accessing affordable, healthy and culturally appropriate food.

  • Young People. Complex barriers prevent children and young people, particularly of multicultural and First Nations backgrounds living in regional and outer metro areas, from accessing healthy, locally sourced, culturally appropriate food. They include cost, proximity, connection to the local food system and social exclusion/discrimination. Young people should have the opportunity to connect to the food system, and be able to access local, affordable and healthy foods.


Book in time with CivVic GM Calvin Frith here.

Applications close Monday 30 May.