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Food Insecurity

Full grocery basket sitting on the floor in the middle of a isle in a grocery store.

What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity refers to not having enough food, uncertainty, and/or lack of access to enough healthy food. It means that you or your family worry about paying for groceries, where your next meal might come from, or cutting back on food to pay the bills. Household food insecurity is a problem rooted in income. 

Who experiences food insecurity?

Food insecurity is a serious public health problem in Ontario, and across Canada. As summarized by the Ontario Dieticians in Public Health, reducing food insecurity requires solutions targeted to its root problem of insufficient income. 

In 2020 households that were low-income and struggled to pay for rent, bills, and healthy food: (data based on the Low-Income Measure-After Tax)

  • 8.7% of Northumberland County households
  • 10.2% of City of Kawartha Lakes households
  • 12.9% of the County of Haliburton households

Food insecurity and health

Studies show adults and children in food insecure households are more likely to be diagnosed with a wide range of chronic conditions or develop poorer health.

Food charity cannot solve food insecurity

Food charities, such as food banks and soup kitchens, offer short-term relief for people who cannot afford to buy their own food. While food banks and other charitable food programs do help some of the most urgent food needs experienced by a small minority of food insecure people, they are unable to address the issue of insufficient incomes, which is the cause of poverty and food insecurity. Only 20 percent of those who are food insecure use food banks.

Solution to food insecurity

To tackle the issue of household food insecurity, we need income-based strategies that address poverty.
Income-based strategies include:

  • Increasing minimum wage to a living wage
  • Improving employment standards
  • Increasing social assistance rates
  • Providing a basic income guarantee

Monitoring food affordability

Since 1998, Ontario Public Health Units have been mandated to monitor food affordability using the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB). The NFB is a survey tool that measures the cost of basic healthy eating as represented by current national nutrition recommendations and average food purchasing patterns. This measure relates the cost of the food basket to individual and family income to assess their ability to afford nutritious food.

Cover of 'Addressing Food Insecurity and Poverty 2022' report

Nutritious food basket report

The HKPR District Health Unit estimates an average family of four (two adults, a teen and child) would have spent just over $1,100 per month to eat healthy in 2022. The nutritious food basket consists of more than 60 food items that are healthy and commonly purchased.

Items not included in the food basket costing that are essentials:

  • Soap
  • Toilet paper
  • Toothpaste
  • Other personal care items

Within the report we compare the incomes and expenses of several household scenarios to show how different incomes can affect healthy eating across Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, and Northumberland.

Household scenarios include:

  • Family of four on minimum wage
  • Single parent on social assistance with children
  • Single adults on social assistance
  • Single senior

Key findings within the 2022 Addressing Food Insecurity and Poverty report include:

  • Average monthly incomes range from $863 (single adult receiving Ontario Works) to $9,323 (family of four with average median income).
  • 25.9% of households living in rental housing are food insecure.
  • Only 20% of those that are food insecure use food banks or food charity programs.
  • 63.1% of Canadians relying on social assistance were food insecure.
  • It has been over 20 years since Ontario has made major changes to social assistance programs.
  • The 2022 Living Wage for all three counties is $19.05 per hour.

Food insecurity is part of health equity.

Learn more about health equity and the social determinants of health.

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