Food insecurity levels unacceptably high in Canada, says report

U of T prof reports 11.7 million Canadian households are making daily dietary compromises

Access to food is a basic human right. However, according to a recent report led by a U of T professor, food insecurity in Canada still runs unacceptably high.

According to the 1996 World Food Summit, food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

University of Toronto professor Dr. Valerie Tarasuk tracks the rising levels of food insecurity in Canada. Tarasuk’s research extends from food needs of under-housed populations to Canadian food policy assessments. In the recent past, she has served as the lead researcher alongside fellow U of T professors Andy Mitchell and Naomi Dachner,  on the 2012 Household Food Insecurity in Canada report. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FAO), the four main requirements of food security are availability, access, utilization, and stability. A threat to any of these dimensions of food security is a threat to the most basic human need, one necessary for survival.

Tarasuk’s Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)-funded report tackles different aspects of food insecurity, including the prevalence, distribution, and relative severity of the phenomenon in Canada. The document clearly summarizes the answers from approximately 60,000 Canadians to the Canadian Community Health Survey. The Household Food Security Model is used to classify participants into categories based on the severity of food insecurity: 4.1 per cent of households are marginally food insecure, six  per cent are moderately food insecure and 2.6 per cent are severely food insecure. The number of Canadian households that are making dietary compromises is much larger than in previous years; for example, food insecurity in Nunavut increased from 31 per cent in 2010 to 45.2 per cent in 2012, according to the report.

Nunavut and  the Northwestern territories have the highest levels of food insecurity, while Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia account for 84 per cent of the food insecure households in Canada. Certain populations are more susceptible to food insecurity, including low-income households, households reliant on social assistance, seniors, unemployed people, recent immigrants, and certain minority ethnic groups.

Food insecurity is a multifaceted problem. It is an economic concern, a public health concern, a social health concern, and a human rights concern. It has repercussions in both mental health and egalitarianism. The repercussions are dire for an appalling number of Canadians, who may not have the means to purchase nutritious food. Victims endure inhumane conditions, from having to choose low-cost unhealthy options to skipping meals and going hungry because of financial restrictions.

Tarasuk said to CBC: “I would say this is a very serious problem, one that isn’t being appropriately addressed right now.” The federal and provincial governments should be obliged to address this problem, as Canadians fight against food insecurity on a daily basis.

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