Food insecurity – the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints – is a serious public health problem, with over 4 million Canadians living in food insecure households. It negatively impacts physical, mental, and social health, and costs our healthcare system considerably.
Causes of food insecurity
Poverty, unemployment, or low income.
Lack of affordable housing.
Chronic health conditions or lack of access to healthcare.
Systemic racism and racial discrimination.
Statistics Canada began monitoring food insecurity in 2005 through the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). In 2012 and 2013, questions were included on the CCHS to assess the food skills and practices of adults with a sample of 10,000 Canadians for each year. This factsheet summarizes the findings from a recent study using that data.
Every aspect of daily living is impacted by food. Not only does it involve feeling fulfilled and full, but it also involves a sense of community and belonging. Food security is having consistent, reliable access to safe food. Food security is determined by three components:
1.Availability of Food
Food availability refers to the physical inflow and presence of safe and nutritious food, such as grocery stores, food gardens, etc. The availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality provides a healthy life free of diseases for all people.
Healthy food could reduce the risk of infectious diseases.
2.Access to Food
This component addresses the ability to purchase or exchange goods for foods, as well as foods that are given and other social mechanisms that affect access, such as affordability, family roles, etc.
3.Utilization of Food
Utilization focuses on the body’s ability to make the most out of the nutrients in food that are consumed. Factors contributing to this are storage and food preparation, such as access to a fridge, stove, or pest-free housing.
Importance of Food Security
Access to quality, nutritious food is fundamental to human existence.
Secure access to food can produce wide-ranging positive impacts, including:
Economic growth and job creation
Increased global security and stability
Improved health and healthcare
Since the food security measure uses multiple items, it covers households worrying about food running out, dietary quality and variety, and quantity of food consumed.
Food insecurity is measured at two levels of severity. In households with low food security, the hardships experienced are primarily reductions in dietary quality and variety.
In households with very low food security, the hardships experienced are reduced food intake and skipped meals.
Hunger and Food Insecurity
It is important to know that though hunger and food insecurity are closely related, they are distinct concepts. Hunger refers to a physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.
Effects of Food Insecurity
Research shows an association between food insecurity and delayed development in young children;
Risk of chronic illnesses like asthma and anemia.
Behavioral problems like hyperactivity.
Anxiety and aggression in school-age children.
How does all of this affect how people think about buying food to provide for themselves and how does it affect cooking it?
The vast majority (84%) of adults in food insecure households report shopping with a budget on how much they can spend on food, but only 43% of adults in food secure households say they do this.
The two groups do not differ when it comes to other shopping behaviours, like planning meals before shopping, using a written grocery list, or using Canada’s Food Guide.
Food Preparation Skills
Adults in food insecure households do not report having lower food preparation skills than those in food secure households. In fact, most Canadian adults, regardless of food insecurity status, considered themselves highly skilled at various aspects of food preparation.
The cooking abilities of adults in food insecure households are similar to those in food secure households. In fact, very few Canadian adults, regardless of food insecurity status, report not knowing where to start when it comes to cooking.
Household food insecurity impacts a person’s eating behaviours and dietary patterns. There are many coping skills that an individual or family may use. Such as:
· Purchasing low cost and sale food items, often of lower quality
· Modifying the quality and/or quantity of food for all household members
· Reducing care giver’s food intake to prioritize feeding children in the household
· Turning to informal support systems such as family and friends
· Accessing community food resources such as the Helping Hand Food Bank
Discomfort and fear of stigmatization are challenges associated with households who experience food insecurity. We want to re-assure clients that the goal is to support them and their families by providing a solution.
We want to treat all of our clients with compassion, non-judgement and culturally safe care when they come to the food bank.
We understand that many expenses are fixed, such as rent for housing. When there is a shortage in income or unexpected expenses, this limits money available for food. Household food insecurity is not necessarily the result of poor budgeting or lack of food knowledge and skill but there may be times when education is appropriate.
With this we:
· Acknowledge that providing healthy foods can be difficult
· Acknowledge that meeting health care needs can be challenging (eg. Diabetes self-management can be more challenging when there are financial barriers to accessing health promoting foods and medications)
· Awareness of how to access help from the food bank and why it is important to be able to answer questions about sources of income and the household expense in receiving assistance.
· Encouraging making a grocery list when shopping and even when coming to the food bank so that you can receive what you need.
As part of this we have in the past two years, liaised with Health Care personal to be at the Helping Hand Food Bank every Wednesday to assist the clients. We have primary care nurses, mental health workers, social workers, accommodation workers, and employment Canada present to give assistance.
Food is a basic human right. We all need access to food that help us live our best life.