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Health Equity

Household Food Insecurity

Household food insecurity is not having stable access to food due to lack of money. It can range from reducing the quality of foods eaten, to going several days without eating anything at all because of lack of money to buy food. It is a powerful predictor of adverse health outcomes such as chronic and infectious diseases, mental health conditions, social well-being as well as life expectancy.  Children are at higher risk of food insecurity, creating the potential for health problems that last into adulthood.  Household food insecurity is an urgent and worsening public health problem and an important issue for local, provincial, and federal decision-makers.

Individuals and families living on low incomes struggle the most to cover the cost of their basic needs - food, rent, and other necessities. The lower the household income, the more likely a household is to experience household food insecurity. Since healthcare costs for food insecure people are much higher than for food secure people, the impact of household insecurity affects the whole community and society at large. This adds pressure to our already over-burdened healthcare system.

The most effective solutions to reduce household food insecurity are income based. Keep reading to learn more.

1 in 5* (21%) of households in Simcoe Muskoka experienced food insecurity in 2022. The risk of food insecurity is higher for households that:

  • have low incomes - due to insufficient social assistance rates, low wages or precarious work,
  • have a lone-parent, especially a female lone-parent,
  • rent their home vs. own their home.

More detailed information about household food insecurity in Simcoe Muskoka can be found on our Household Food Insecurity HealthSTATS webpage.

*Household Food Insecurity (Including Marginal) in the Past 30 Days, Simcoe Muskoka, 2022. Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System (RRFSS), Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. Data collected by the Institute for Social Research at York University, Toronto Ontario. Cycles 40-42 (Jan-Dec, 2022).

The health unit monitors food affordability annually, using the Nutritious Food Basket survey tool. This information is used to calculate the cost of basic nutritious food in our region. Regional food cost data, combined with a series of eight income scenarios, are used to estimate the affordability of housing and basic nutritious food relative to income. Year after year, this data shows that many Simcoe Muskoka residents living on low incomes do not have enough money for food and other basic needs.

More detailed information can be found about food costs and income scenarios, in our region, on the Nutritious Food Basket HealthSTATS webpage.

New statistics released by Statistics Canada shows that household food insecurity in Canada and Ontario has increased significantly from 2020 to 2023 during a period of unprecedented inflation. The adverse effects of rising prices (due to inflation) are not felt equally. People with fixed incomes, or the lowest-income earners, are worse off as they cannot protect themselves from high-inflationary prices, like high income earners can. Instead, they must cut back (on food) more than high income earners. In 2022, 6.9 million people lived in a food-insecure household in the 10 provinces (increased from 5.8 million in 2021) including almost 1.8 million children (increased from 1.4 million in 2021).

In Ontario, household food insecurity rates have worsened, from 16.1% in 2021 to 19.2% in 2022; and from 20.6% to 24.6% for children in the same years, respectively (see table below). This is a worsening trend. These significantly increased rates translate into increased health impacts, healthcare spending and community impacts. It demonstrates the urgent need for effective solutions to reduce household food insecurity.

Food Insecurity 

Food Insecurity Children

Charitable food programs (such as food banks and soup kitchens) have grown rapidly in the past few years, alongside skyrocketing food and housing costs, and weakening social support programs. Charitable food programs have been increasingly relied upon to address food insecurity. They started out in the 1980’s, as a short-term measure during the recession to respond to income emergencies, but unfortunately have now become part of the main response to household food insecurity. Staff and volunteers work tirelessly at programs, but unfortunately, they are not able to reduce household food insecurity alone.

Household food insecurity is a systemic problem of inadequate income that cannot be solved by providing stop-gap emergency food relief. Despite more people turning to food banks than ever before, only 1 in 5 people who are food insecure use a food bank due to issues such as availability, operating hours, transportation, health or cultural dietary needs, and the stigma associated with receiving charity. This means many people are struggling to get by, sacrificing their health and livelihoods. The Ontario charitable food sector advocates for everyone to have secure incomes to reduce household food insecurity.

Municipalities and community groups have an important role in taking action to reduce household food insecurity. Here are some ideas about what you can do:

  • Increase your knowledge and awareness by visiting the Learn More tab below.
  • Speak up and talk about household food insecurity within your networks – share key information and statistics on social media or through other opportunities.
  • Take action by advocating to the federal and provincial governments for policy interventions that target improving incomes for those most affected - use the letter template from the Ontario Dietitians in Public Health for help getting started.
  • Connect and collaborate – reach out to us to get started working on long-lasting solutions, such as municipal or community programs and policies that target inadequate income. Some examples are:
  • Supporting free income tax filing clinics to ensure everyone can access their benefit entitlements.
  • Reducing financial barriers to public programs and services (e.g., subsidized transit, recreation and childcare programs).
  • Leading by example by becoming a Living Wage employer.
  • Supporting or increasing attainable housing.
  • Providing leadership and support to coalitions that address household food insecurity.

There are many more options for taking action that can be tailored to your community. Please reach out to us to find out more about collaborating on action to reduce household food insecurity.

The health unit participates in local poverty reduction work and collaborates with municipalities and community partners to support policy and program changes that can reduce household food insecurity. The health unit’s past No Money For Food is Cent$less campaign encouraged the community to advocate to the provincial and federal government for fair workplaces with good jobs, increased social assistance rates, and increases to the minimum wage. There are opportunities at all levels of government to make positive changes.

Over the past several years our Board of Health has endorsed advocacy for a basic income, social assistance increases, attainable housing, affordable childcare, and accessible dental care to support reducing inequities that cause household food insecurity.

The health unit also continues to carry out the Nutritious Food Basket survey annually to monitor and share the results of food affordability in Simcoe Muskoka.

Please reach out to us to find out more about collaborating on action to reduce household food insecurity.

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