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- New Approach Needed to Help Ensure Local Families Can Afford Healthy Eating, Health Unit Says -

As healthy eating costs continue to rise in Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes, public health officials say a major rethink is needed on how to help local families make ends meet.

“Right now, social assistance benefits and income from minimum-wage jobs are not keeping pace with the higher costs of living, meaning people must choose between paying for food or rent,” says Rosie Kadwell, a Registered Dietitian with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit. “It’s time to look at bold, new approaches to ending poverty and ensuring people can access the nutritious food and other basics they need.”

For Kadwell, this means increasing minimum wages and social assistance rates to “a reasonable, realistic amount” that ensures local families will no longer be forced to choose between putting healthy food on the table or having a roof over their heads.

Her comments come as the HKPR District Health Unit reports the cost of a Nutritious Food Basket in 2016 for a local family of four (two adults, a teenager and child) rose to $204.66 per week. The Nutritious Food Basket consists of 67 food items that are nutritious and commonly purchased by Ontarians; items excluded are other essentials like soap, toilet paper, toothpaste and personal care products. By Health Unit estimates, the cost of healthy eating has increased nearly $34 per week since 2011 for an average family of four living in Haliburton County, the City of Kawartha Lakes and Northumberland County.

In situations where families rely on social assistance, disability benefits, or minimum-wage jobs, the Health Unit found that many people did not have enough money to buy healthy food after paying for other necessities like rent, utilities and heat. Even employment is no guarantee of making ends meet, as 57.5 per cent of Ontario families struggling to put food on the table work – albeit in low-paying or unstable jobs .

While charitable initiatives like food banks, collective kitchens and emergency meal programs are well-meaning and do excellent work to try to bridge the gap, Elsie Azevedo Perry notes they are not long-term solutions. “Food charities help to relieve hunger in the short term, but we really need to find longer-term answers so that poverty and food insecurity do not persist in our community,” says Azevedo Perry, a Registered Dietitian with the HKPR District Health Unit.

Food insecurity – the inability to access food due to financial challenges – is a serious public health problem in Canada that negatively affects people’s physical, mental, and social health. According to the Health Unit, more than one in 10 people in Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes and Northumberland are considered ‘food insecure.’

The Basic Income Guarantee – a proposal that has been endorsed by the Health Unit’s Board of Health – is one possible solution to the problem of food insecurity. The Basic Income Guarantee would see the government ‘guarantee’ all individuals or families, regardless of their work status, a minimum level of annual income. Anyone earning below this minimum annual income would receive government funding to make up the difference. In coming months, the provincial government will launch a pilot program to test out the Basic Income Guarantee in select Ontario communities.

“We’re really eager to see the results of the pilot project, because the Basic Income Guarantee could be one viable way to solve the problem of food insecurity in our community,” Kadwell adds.

Other ways to address food insecurity and poverty in the area are to urge elected representatives at all levels of government to support increases to social assistance and minimum wage rates so they reflect true living costs, ask for better employment standards to reduce unstable work, and continue efforts for more adequate and affordable housing. To access resources and infographics about local food insecurity and the 2016 Nutritious Food Basket costing, call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577 or visit the Rethink Poverty webpage.

For media inquiries, contact:

Rosie Kadwell, Registered Dietitian, HKPR District Health Unit, (705) 457-1391,

or Elsie Azevedo, Registered Dietitian, HKPR District Health Unit, (905) 885-9100.

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«February 2019»