World Food Day, a global movement to end hunger, is a fitting time to reflect on hunger in our country. Our federal government routinely collects national data on household food insecurity - inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints. According to the most recent data, nearly one in eight households, and 3.9 million Canadians, including 1.1 million children experienced some level of food insecurity in 2011. These numbers represent an increase of 450,000 since 2008.
To be food insecure is to lack secure access to one of our most basic needs. Food insecurity means worrying about whether there will be enough money for food and compromising diets to make food stretch, and in the more extreme cases going without food. Food insecurity is undeniably a problem of persistent poverty. The main source of income for most food insecure households (61%) is employment, suggesting insufficient wages. And, households reliant on social assistance are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity, highlighting the well-document inadequacy of these income supports.
Food insecurity is most prevalent in Canada’s North and the Maritimes. It is also more prevalent among households with children under the age of 18. The rate is lowest in Newfoundland and Labrador (10.6%) and in Nunavut the situation is most severe (36.4%). Over half (57%) of Nunavut’s children were living in food insecure households in 2011.
Urgent action is required now!
Not only is it morally reprehensible that over 12% of households living in Canada, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, struggle to put food on the table, food insecurity is a serious public health problem. Recent research in Canada has shown that the experience of hunger leaves an indelible mark on children’s physical and mental health, with greater likelihood of conditions like depression and asthma. Adults in food insecure households have poorer physical and mental health and higher rates of many chronic conditions, including depression, diabetes and heart disease. Living with the constant stress of trying to make ends meet, running out of food and not being able to adequately feed one’s family saps the opportunity to participate wholly in society.
Although the problem of hunger in developing countries differs from the situation here in Canada, World Food Day’s call to reduce poverty and make ending hunger a priority resonates. The harm to adults and children living in food insecure environments is extensive. For a nation with Canada’s relative affluence and stability, there is no excuse and every opportunity to take effective action – it is critical that the inadequacy of existing policies and approaches be addressed so that all Canadians are assured of the right to enough food to satisfy their basic needs.
For more information on food insecurity in Canada please view the Household Food Insecurity in Canada 2011 report. Subscribe to the PROOF site to be updated on the pending release of Household Food Insecurity in Canada 2012 report and other upcoming PROOF publications.