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Published on Thursday, May 25, 2023

Food insecurity a serious public health issue

By Laura Needham, RD, MPH,

Public Health Dietitian with the Grey Bruce Health Unit

 

There is little doubt that Grey Bruce residents have noted higher costs for food in recent months. This trend has put pressure on consumers, retailers, restaurant operators, and more as Canada’s Food Price Report forecasts costs to rise about 5-7% this year. You may have found that your own shopping habits have changed, seeking cost savings while still meeting your family’s food preferences. This rapid increase in food costs has led many to question how we can respond to current and future experiences of food insecurity (a term used for when households do not have enough money to purchase the foods that they need).

This is an important question. Food insecurity is a serious public health problem that impacts physical, mental, and social wellbeing and results in significantly higher health care costs. Pre-pandemic, 1 in 5 Grey Bruce households experienced food insecurity and if our region follows national trends we can expect that even more households are experiencing it now.

Food insecurity is more than hunger. Food insecurity is not a food problem; it is an income problem and it is time that we respond to it accordingly, using income-based solutions, not more food charity. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian governments invested more funding than ever towards community programs like food banks and community meals. Many dedicated volunteers work in these settings trying to address the emergency food needs of others. The truth is, these investments and programs act as a curtain behind which our government can hide their inaction on the true causes of food insecurity - like poverty, gender inequities, and systemic racism. Charity will not fix these problems. Real and coordinated action at all levels of government is needed to create policies that address these complex problems with sustainable solutions.

The evidence is clear; food charity cannot make someone food secure. However, income solutions like the Guaranteed Income Supplement, Canada Child Benefit, or the short-lived Canada Emergency Response Benefit have demonstrated their potential in reducing the number of people who experience food insecurity and the severity of food insecurity in our communities. We know that two thirds of people experiencing food insecurity are employed, yet they still are not able to meet their basic needs let alone prepare for unexpected financial shocks. The pandemic showed us the impact of unexpected changes to our income or expenses; but these types of budget shocks will not end with the pandemic for all households.

Learn More by exploring No Money for Food is … Cent$less by Ontario Dietitians in Public Health www.odph.ca/centsless

Laura Needham is a member of the Food Affordability and Food Insecurity Working Groups of ODPH

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Categories: Your Health, Eating Well

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