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Low-income homes struggle to afford healthy food

Low-income families in Durham Region are struggling to buy healthy food according to a report from the region’s health department.

The 2019 Nutritious Food Basket report shows the cost of a basic healthy diet for a family of four in Durham Region is calculated to be $861 per month, or $199 per week. This represents a nine per cent increase in food costs over the past five years.

The survey is conducted annually in Durham Region to monitor food affordability.

In combination with local housing costs, the report examines accessibility of a healthy diet for area residents and aims to raise awareness that local poverty and food insecurity rates continue to increase.

“There’s an urgent need to address the economic barriers that people living with low incomes experience in accessing a nutritious diet,” said Deborah Lay, registered dietician and public health nutritionist with Durham region. “Aside from increasing food costs, the true issue is that incomes are too low, and many individuals and families just do not have enough money to pay for their basic needs, including shelter and healthy food.”

Public health officials estimate 14 per cent of Durham households, or approximately 66,100 area residents, face local  food insecurity.

This means they either worried about running out of food, settled for lower quality foods or missed meals altogether.

Food insecurity poses serious health risks such as higher rates of diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and disproportionately higher use of healthcare resources.

The amount of household spending on food and shelter is roughly three times greater for those at the lowest income level than those who fall within the Ontario average income.

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