Concerns about food security have been growing in recent years, especially in light of the fact that more than 1 million children face food insecurity. Isolated communities and households relying on social assistance lack access to nutritious and safe food. Given the rise in commodity prices, insecurity affects the mental and physical health of Canadian households that struggle financially.
Security Issues across Canada
According to the Household Food Security in Canada report, the Maritime Provinces and Nunavut are the most affected. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut and British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island experience the highest rates of food insecurity. Ontario and Alberta have the lowest rates. Cities such as Greater Sudbury, Hamilton, Quebec City, and Sherbrooke experience the lowest rates while Halifax has the highest.
Families with underage children face the highest risk (15.6 percent) compared to families without children under 18. The highest percentage of insecure households with underage children is in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Households on social assistance are at risk, and 70 percent of them are food insecure. Other groups at risk are those renting a home, Aboriginal and black people, low-income families, and female-headed households. Groups that are affected also include people with chronic conditions, new immigrants, homeless persons, those on workers compensation, and persons working seasonal and part-time jobs.
Food Insecurity and Health
People who lack adequate access to food are at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and other serious conditions. Food-insecure adults and children have higher rates of chronic conditions. Poor nutrition during childhood is associated with behavioral problems, poor academic performance, learning disabilities, and developmental risk. Children in low-income families are also at a higher risk of poor growth, lead and tobacco exposure, and obesity and asthma.
Policies and Strategies
Canada’s food policy is currently under development and aims to ensure that all Canadians have access to affordable and nutritious food. The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food produced a number of recommendations to ensure that vulnerable groups have access to good-quality food, including northern and isolated communities, Indigenous people, those living below the poverty line, and families with children. The committee recommends close collaboration with all stakeholders, including food manufacturers, fishers, and ranchers. One of the main goals is to stimulate the growth of regional and local agriculture as to ensure that food is available and more affordable. The committee also proposes that the government partners with non-governmental organizations and local communities to fund initiatives with a focus on food waste and loss, literacy, security, and agriculture. The committee highlights the importance of establishing a food policy advisory body with members representing civil society, indigenous communities, academia, the agricultural and agri-food sectors, and governmental departments.
Efforts by Non-Government Organizations
Dietitians of Canada prepared 3 documents that focus on food security – an Executive Summary, Position Statement and Recommendations, and a Background Paper. The Background Paper contains data on the causes, severity, and extent of insecurity while the Executive Summary includes a number of recommendations and a position statement. The Position Statement and Recommendations focus on income-based strategies such as funding for affordable housing, basic income guarantees, social assistance, income protection for persons with low incomes, and improved benefits.