In Brief: Stressful Life Events and Food Insecurity

Diana Gerasimov shares data on the association between stressful life events and food insecurity.

Diana Gerasimov

April 12, 2021

Vanier Institute’s In Brief Series: Mobilizing Research on Families in Canada

STUDY: El-Hajj, A., and E. Benhim. “Association between Food Insecurity and Stressful Life Events Among Canadian Adults,” Statistics Canada: Longitudinal and International Study of Adults Research Paper Series, Catalogue no. 89-648-X (March 2021). Link:

Health Canada (2012) defines household food insecurity as “the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.” Research shows that stressful life circumstances contribute to the increased possibility of experiencing food insecurity. The study investigates the ways that individuals in Canada experiencing multiple stressful circumstances may be more likely to report food insecurity, compared with someone who reports facing just one or no stressful life events.

The study’s authors define stressful life events as either expected or unexpected events that can have adverse effects on the well-being of individuals and their families. These include loss of employment, worsening financial situations or death of a loved one.

Key findings

  • Adults who reported having two or more stressful life events were about four times more likely to experience food insecurity than those who reported zero stressful life events.
  • 5 of the 10 stressful life events categorized in this study were associated with food insecurity.

Food insecurity and stressful life events

Food insecure adults were more likely than their food secure counterparts to report:

  • Job loss (20% vs. 6%)
  • Worsening financial situation (38% vs. 5%)
  • Being a victim of a crime (10% vs. 3%)
  • Illness or injury of oneself or close friend or family member (35% vs. 19%)

In 2018, 5% of the Canadian population surveyed reported being food-insecure and 94% were food secure. Among the Canadians who reported being food insecure:

  • 44% were males and 55% were females.
  • 39% were homeowners compared with 61% of renters.
  • 41% had obtained up to a high school degree versus 17%, who held a university degree or higher.
  • 11% lived in the Atlantic region, 15% lived in Quebec, 41% lived in Ontario, 20% lived in Alberta and 13% lived in British Columbia.
  • 25% were immigrants compared with 74%, who were born in Canada.

The findings demonstrate that stressful life events concerning an adult’s financial situation and health tend to be the most prevalent associations with food insecurity. Further understanding of the longevity of the impacts of stressful life events would provide valuable insights for researchers and policy makers.

Diana Gerasimov holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Communication and Cultural Studies.

Related resources:

Food Insecurity and Family Finances During the Pandemic

In Focus 2019: Food Insecurity in Canada











Scroll to Top