The links between poverty, household food insecurity and health are clear. Food insecurity increases the risk of nutrition deficiencies, low birth weight and chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Adults with low incomes are more likely to say they have poor health and more than one chronic health condition. The stress of coping with a limited income can also affect mental health. Food insecurity appears to increase the likelihood of depression in adults and teens. There is also growing evidence that children from food-insecure homes tend to have poorer social skills, more behaviour problems and do less well at school than children from homes where food insecurity is not an issue.
The local picture
Each year the Health Unit carries out a Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey of food prices in grocery stores across Simcoe and Muskoka. Results are used to figure out the local cost of healthy eating and to see how affordable a nutritious diet actually is when local rents and income from social assistance, pensions or minimum wage work are considered. Unfortunately, year after year, results (PDF) show that low income individuals and families cannot afford a basic healthy diet.
How can we make sure all residents of Simcoe and Muskoka can afford the nutritious foods they need to ensure their health and well-being now and in the future? Although food and budgeting skills are important for everyone, these skills have little impact on narrowing the huge gap between the income and expenses of local individuals and families with limited incomes. On the other hand, policy changes that increase income and supports for vulnerable individuals and families can have an immediate and positive impact.
In 2014, the Ontario government released Realizing Our Potential: Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy (2014-2019). This is the second phase of a provincial poverty reduction strategy first released in late 2009 after a year or more of consultation with concerned individuals, organizations and groups from right across the province. The long-term solutions, they continue to urge, are concrete provincial action in key areas including:
- increasing social assistance rates based on the “real” cost of living, indexed to inflation.
- ensuring wages and employment supports are sufficient to lift people out of poverty, and
- providing access to supportive community services such as public transportation, affordable housing and child care.
For full details of 2015 survey results for Simcoe County and Muskoka District separately:
Nutritious Food Basket
Household Food Insecurity