Expense of healthy food considered a serious public health problem in Canada

File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / Serg64)

Chatham-Kent Public Health officials are reporting that affordable and healthy food is becoming more of a challenge in the area and that something must be done about it.

A report presented to the Board of Health on Wednesday stated the average cost of feeding a family of four in Chatham-Kent last year was $203.59 a week, which is up five per cent from $193.31 the previous year. The costs were obtained from six different local grocery stores.

The report showed that low-income households spent up to 39 per cent of their income on food, not because food costs too much, but because their incomes are too low.

“Household food insecurity, the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints is a serious public health problem in Canada,” said the local health unit.

Public health officials said there are significant financial pressures on families and individuals living on low incomes in Chatham-Kent. They added those living on low incomes have little — if any — money left over to cover basic monthly expenses, including nutritious food after paying for regular food and shelter.

“Those experiencing food insecurity often report suboptimal health, multiple chronic conditions, and depression,” read the report. “These individuals also note that food insecurity also impacts their ability to perform activities at home, work, or school due to their health status.”

As a result, federal politicians in Ottawa are being urged by Chatham-Kent Public Health to update Canada’s food policy and outdated tools to improve nutrition and public health to reflect Canada’s new Food Guide. Local health officials said at this time there isn’t a standard tool that is used across Canada to measure food affordability.

“It is important that we seek to ensure the accurate reporting of uniform, nationwide indicators of food affordability and food security,” the report said. “This would facilitate detailed analysis of trends and evaluation of the impact of income-related and other social policy changes, including any adjustments to social assistance rates made by the Ontario government.”

The data provided by the local health unit showed that eight per cent of households in Chatham-Kent reported being either moderately or severely food insecure in 2013-2014. Annual food costs for a family of four have also increased by $331.34 since 2008. In 2019, 2,422 local households with 2,070 children living within them received support from Ontario Works each month.