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Region addressing food insecurity

Cost of basic healthy diet for a family of four has grown 15 per cent over the past five years

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

According to a study from the Durham health department, the costs of basic healthy diet has risen significantly in recent years.

According to Durham Region’s health department, the cost of a basic healthy diet for a family of four is $853 per month, or $197 every week, representing a 15 per cent increase in the last five years.

The health department’s Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey is conducted yearly, and it helps the region to monitor food affordability.

“In combination with local housing costs, public health examines the NFB to determine the accessibility of a healthy diet for area residents and raise public awareness that local poverty and food insecurity rates continue to increase,” reads the report.

According to the report, 12 per cent of Durham households face food insecurity in 2018. This means that approximately 78,000 residents either worry about running out of food, would settle for lower quality food, or even miss meals altogether.

Food insecurity poses high risks to one’s health. It can cause diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and “disproportionately higher health care use with increasing severity of food insecurity.”

The 2018 report found that a family of four whose income comes from Ontario Works and consists of two parents, whose ages range from 31 to 50, a boy between 14 and 18 years old, and a girl who is between four and eight, can expect to pay approximately 85 per cent of their income on rent and food.

Glendene Collins, manager of community resource and development at Durham’s health department, says, “The health department monitors affordability of food in the context of household income. This is done by collecting food costing data annually using the [NFB] protocol, which is a tool to provide a measure of the average cost of a basic healthy diet.”

The protocol allows the health department to monitor trends in food costs, inform public policy decisions, identify those who may be at risk of food insecurity so that programs and services can be adapted to better meet the needs of the community, and increase awareness of the issue of food insecurity.

“The health department collaborates with community stakeholders to address food insecurity both individually and collectively because it is a broad issue without a simple answer,” says Collins. “Food insecurity involves issues such as housing, education, food costs and income. It is important that representatives from across all these sectors work in partnership to identify solutions.”

The health department has several resources that can help with food insecurity. One such program is Housing Help Durham, which assists low-income families in finding a home that won’t break the bank.

“Greater access to affordable housing could help families and individuals living in low income situations to better meet their basic living needs,” says Deborah Lay, a registered dietician and public health nutritionist. “A public policy response targeting low household income is needed to tackle the inequity of food insecurity.”

There are multiple programs that can assist with food insecurity.  One in particular the health department fully supports is the now-cancelled basic income pilot project the Liberal government tested in areas such as Thunder Bay, Hamilton, and Lindsay.

The goal was to provide those who are between 18 and 64 years old with a minimum basic level of income to help alleviate stress and anxiety.

Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario PC party recently cut the program.

“Public health did support the basic income pilot project that was designed to provide income transfer from government to citizens that was not tied to labour market participation, but was based on an objective of universal income security and had the potential to alleviate or even eliminate poverty,” says Collins. “This program is also consistent with our public health mandate to address the determinants of health and reduce health inequities. Public health is supportive of the reinstatement of such a program.”

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