Food insecurity widespread in Nipissing District, says health unit

Poverty, not poor budgeting or cooking skills, the problem

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One in seven households in the Nipissing and Parry Sound districts are food insecure, according to the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit.

Food insecurity means a household does not have enough money to buy healthy food, highlighting low income as the underlying issue. Food insecurity ranges from worrying about running out of food, to relying on less healthy, lower-cost foods, to skipping meals due to financial constraints.

The 2018 Cost of Healthy Eating Report shows that it costs a local family of four $884 a month to eat a basic healthy diet. For those living with low income, after paying for food and rent there may not be enough money left for necessities such as heat, hydro, transportation, telephone, child care and other living expenses.

“Food insecurity is a serious public health problem. It greatly impacts health and well-being,” says Erin Reyce, public health dietitian at the health unit. “Being food insecure increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and depression and, in turn, is associated with higher health care costs.”

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Reyce adds that income-related policy measures need to be strengthened in Ontario to reduce poverty rates, particularly social assistance. Research shows that approximately 64 per cent of households receiving social assistance are food insecure. This demonstrates that social assistance rates are too low to protect recipients from food insecurity.

An individual who is food insecure may turn to food charity programs, such as food banks or soup kitchens, to make ends meet. While these programs are important emergency services in the community, they do not address the root of the problem, which is poverty. Research shows that food insecurity is not a result of poor budgeting or cooking skills.

The health unit’s Board of Health passed a resolution Wednesday in support of Bill 60, which calls for the establishment of a social assistance research commission. This would consist of a group of experts to make recommendations on social assistance policy, including rates that reflect the real cost of living in Ontario.

The health unit monitors food affordability through the Nutritious Food Basket project. Twelve grocery stores in its district are surveyed for the cost of select food items from Canada’s Food Guide. The cost of healthy eating is then compared to local rent rates and income scenarios to determine food affordability.

For more information about food insecurity, visit myhealthunit.ca/foodinsecurity

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