Food insecurity in Canada is an issue deeply intertwined with the health and economic well-being of families. While there is no single cause for food insecurity, research shows that both economic insecurity and geographical isolation (in particular, the higher food costs in Northern communities resulting from a lack of year-round rail, road or marine access) contribute to families not having access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for a healthy life.1
Food-insecure families are more likely to experience adverse effects to their health and well-being, which include restricted mobility and chronic conditions, poor mental health and mental distress.2 This impacts individuals, families and communities, and incurs considerable costs on the health care system – it’s a matter of family well-being and public health.
In recognition of Hunger Action Month, which raises awareness on national, provincial and local levels about hunger in Canada, this edition of In Focus highlights data on food insecurity across the country.
Many Canadians – including children and youth – continue to experience food insecurity
- In 2018, 1 in 4 children and youth under 18 (23%) say they go to bed or school hungry at least sometimes because there is not enough food at home.3
- In 2018, children and youth under 18 accounted for 20% of the population in Canada but 35% of those who accessed food banks in March of that year.4
- In 2015–2016, approximately 16% of households in reporting provinces and territories across Canada5 experienced food insecurity.6
Northern populations and marginalized groups experience disproportionately high rates of food insecurity
- In March 2018, six in 10 people who accessed food banks (59%) were on social assistance or disability-related supports.7
- In 2015–2016, more than half (51%) of households in Nunavut were food insecure – by far the highest rate in Canada and more than three times the average rate of the remaining reporting provinces and territories (11%).8
- In 2015–2016, nearly three-quarters of the children in Nunavut (72%) and one-third of the children in the Northwest Territories (32%) lived in food-insecure households, compared with 16% to 23% among the remaining reporting provinces and territories.9
- Despite the launch of Nutrition North – a food retail subsidy designed to improve food access and affordability in isolated communities – annual rates of food insecurity actually increased in Nunavut between pre-implementation (33% to 40% between 2007 and 2010) and the years following implementation of the program (46% to 56% between 2013 and 2016).10, 11
- Research from 2014 showed that rates of food insecurity among Black people (29%) and Indigenous people (26%) were more than twice as high as the national average (12%).
Data gaps leave us without a clear picture of the prevalence and impact of food insecurity among diverse groups
- The Canadian Community Health Survey (the main source for information on food insecurity in Canada) doesn’t collect data from First Nations reserves, resulting in approximately half of all status First Nations peoples (approximately 300,000) being left out of the picture, and thus underestimating the prevalence of food insecurity.12
- Other diverse groups, including full-time members of the Canadian Armed Forces, people living in institutions and the 235,000 Canadians who experience homelessness in any given year are not represented in national food insecurity data (despite the latter being more vulnerable to food insecurity than the general population).13
- Paula Arriagada, “Food Insecurity Among Inuit Living in Inuit Nunangat,” Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 75-006-X (February 1, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2maW9oN.
- UNICEF Canada, Where Does Canada Stand? The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being: 2019 Baseline Report (September 3, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2kpOeDv.
- Food Banks Canada, Hunger Count 2018 (February 5, 2018). Link: http://bit.ly/2lNPQY1.
- Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Yukon opted out of food insecurity measurement in 2015–2016.
- PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research, Latest Household Food Insecurity Data Now Available (June 25, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2AS2ni0.
- Food Banks Canada, 2018.
- PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research, 2018.
- Research suggests this may be the result of the program’s focus on perishable, nutritious foods, as well as the exclusion of most non-perishable foods and all non-food items from the subsidy.
- Andrée-Anne Fafard St-Germain, Tracey Galloway and Valerie Tarasuk, “Food Insecurity in Nunavut Following the Introduction of Nutrition North Canada,” Canadian Medical Association Journal, 191:20 (May 21, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2m5FJhb.
- PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research, Household Food Insecurity in Canada: A Guide to Measurement and Interpretation (November 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2kAs2qd.