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Canadian Public Health Association

Food insecurity in Canada

In recent years, attention to food security issues has been growing in Canada, with increasing concerns about economic access to adequate food for some sub-populations, the high cost of food in isolated communities, the recent rise in food prices globally, and concerns about the safety and sustainability of the food supply. The ability to access adequate food on a regular basis is a challenge for a significant number of Canadian households. In March 2009, over three quarters of a million people (794,738) used a food bank in Canada, an increase of 17.6%, or almost 120,000 people, compared to MARCH 2008, representing the largest year-over-year increase since 1997. In 2004, more than 1.1 million house holds (9.2%) were food insecure at some point in the previous year as a result of financial challenges they faced in accessing adequate food (see Health Canada, Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Income-Related Household Food Security in Canada).

Nutritious Food Basket

First introduced in 1974, the National Nutritious Food Basket (NNFB) is used to monitor the cost and affordability of healthy eating. The NNFB includes approximately 60 foods that represent a nutritious diet for individuals in various age and gender groups. This information is used to collect the price of the items in different locations in Canada to determine the cost of the basket. The latest version was updated by Health Canada in 2008.

Monitoring Food Costs in Ontario

Since 1999, public health units in Ontario have been required to annually monitor and report on the cost of nutritious eating in their region. Public health units collect information from grocery stores each year and use this to promote and support the development of policies to increase access to nutritious food.

"We know there is a direct correlation between nutritious food and health, especially in the prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. When the price of healthy food remains out of reach for so many people, we are faced with a serious health threat that is within the power of government to prevent."
- Dr. David McKeown, Toronto Medical Officer of Health

For an example of how health units in Ontario use the Nutritious Food Basket see: The Cost of Nutritious Food in Toronto

The Cost of Eating in BC 2009

The Dietitians of Canada conducted a similar study in British Columbia and released The Cost of Eating in BC 2009 and found not all British Columbians have enough money to buy healthy food. While shelter and food costs have risen significantly over the past decade, income assistance and the minimum wage have not kept pace. Dietitians are calling for the provincial government to take some additional action to address poverty in this province.

Nova Scotia also does a comprehensive food costing annually.

For more information:

  • The Cost of Eating in BC
  • Community food security - Position of Dietitians of Canada: Dietitians of Canada takes the position that community food security (CFS) is both an important process and an outcome for achieving food security among Canadians. DC calls for a sustainable food system that maximizes healthy choices, community self-reliance and equal access to food for everyone (04/27/2007)
  • Individual and household food security - Position of Dietitians of Canada: Over 10 percent of the Canadian population - approximately 3 million people - cannot count on a healthy diet because of food insecurity. Dietitians of Canada calls for improvements in the social safety net in order to address the root cause of individual and household food insecurity - poverty (03/03/2005)

Hunger in the Arctic

The National Aboriginal Health Organization reports that limited available data suggest that food insecurity is a major problem among Canada's northern Aboriginal peoples. Market food is expensive, and often unavailable, and of poorer quality and nutritional value. There are also barriers to the consumption of food harvested from the local environment including lack of equipment, changing tastes, loss of skills and preparation expenses. Contamination of the food supply and climate change are two other important considerations.

For more information