Food insecurity more than a food problem

What comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving? Turkey? Stuffing? Gravy and mashed potatoes? While thanksgiving may be a day filled with food for most, that's not the case for all.

According to Statistics Canada's, and the most recent Canadian Community Health Survey, one in eight Canadian households are food insecure. This means that approximately four million Canadians, including 1.15 million children, are living in households that worry about, or lack the financial means to afford healthy, safe, personally acceptable food.

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Those who are most likely to experience food insecurity are individuals who receive their income from minimum wages, part-time jobs, employment or social assistance, are First Nation, Metis or Inuit, those with children, the homeless, new immigrants, and individuals with chronic health conditions.

Every two years, the Provincial Health Services Authority works with the Ministry of Health and the five regional health authorities to monitor the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet in B.C, based on the National Nutritious Food Basket (NNFB). The NNFB includes 67 food items that are minimally processed, require preparation, and are considered to be commonly eaten by most Canadians in amounts that provide a nutritionally adequate, balanced diet. Data on the cost of these items is collected from hundreds of grocery stores across B.C. to determine the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet in different areas of the province.

In 2015, the average monthly cost of the NNFB for a family of four in Northern Health was $1,032, the highest in the province. This means that if two adults in a family of four are each working full-time, making minimum wage, over 30 per cent of their income would go towards providing an adequate diet. This would not account for restaurant meals, convenience products and the extra expenses that can be associated with special occasion meals such as Thanksgiving. The NNFB only refers to the basic food items that make-up a nutritionally adequate diet.

Food security is foundational to healthy eating. Individuals living in food insecure households, are at a greater likelihood of having or developing one or more chronic physical and/or mental health conditions and becoming a 'high cost user' of health care services, according to Dietitians of Canada. This means that whether you live in a food insecure household or not, all Canadians pay the price for the health and social issues relating to food insecurity.

Food insecurity is also much more than just a food problem, it's complex and requires both short and long-term interventions.

Dietitians across Canada address the issues associated with food insecurity at multiple levels. Whether by providing education to individuals and families on healthy, budget-conscious foods, developing and increasing the awareness of community food skills programs or advocating for policy changes, Dietitians are taking steps to reduce the rates of food insecurity in Canada.

When the provincial government requested consultation on the development and implementation of B.C.'s first poverty reduction strategy, Dietitians of Canada provided a comprehensive report, outlining the need to address food insecurity and the inability of many British Columbians to afford a basic necessity of life. Dietitians see the effect of poverty on the health and well-being of British Columbians and understand that it's difficult to promote healthy, balanced diets when the root causes of food insecurity are not adequately addressed.

Following initial stakeholder consultation, the provincial government plans to bring poverty reduction legislation forward this fall, with a strategy to follow.

For information on food security projects, initiatives, and organizations in British Columbia as well as publications, tools, guides, and news on advancing food security in B.C. visit:

-- Kelsey Leckovic is a registered dietitian for Northern Health working in chronic disease management.

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