Ripe for Change – Food Insecurity in BC

Food Security for Families

On December 6th, BCAHL hosted a webinar on food insecurity in BC.

Affordable, healthy food is essential to a healthy life.  But when food quality or quantity is compromised it creates stress and ultimately negative health consequences.

People living on low incomes have a much higher risk of developing chronic disease and experiencing poor health overall – a big part of this is related to diet and food quality. Healthy food is often sacrificed when income is low because the food budget is variable and flexible unlike other fixed costs such as rent and utilities.  And of course food insecurity creates toxic levels of stress.

Our first speaker, Melanie Kurrein provided some context on the issue – she shared the findings of recent research on the characteristics and health implications of food insecure households in BC using Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) data.

What they found was:

  • Close to ½ a million (485,000) British Columbians, experienced some level of food insecurity in 2011-12 – this is more than one in 10 households (11.8%)
  • Highest rates of food insecurity are in the North
  • About one in six BC children under the age of 18 lived in households experiencing some level of food insecurity (15.6%) but this was as high as 1 in 5 and 1 in 4 in some of the health authorities.
  • BC households led by single Moms with children under 18 years of age, had the highest rate of food insecurity (34.2%) among all other household types.
  • People are often surprised to see that of all the food insecure households the majority (65%) are working; but 76% of households who are on social assistance are also food insecure.

Click here to download Melanie’s presentation: Struggling To Put Food On TheTable – Food Insecurity in BC.

Our second speaker, Gerry Kasten discussed policy options from the new Dietitians of Canada position paper on Individual and Household Food Insecurity – which was released earlier this year.  He pointed out that:

  • While food-based programs provide other community benefits (such as social connections), they do not address food insecurity. In fact, only one in four or five food insecure households is able to access food-based relief programs such as food banks and soup kitchens.
  • Food insecurity has serious costs to the individual and to society. It increases risk for so many health conditions from asthma and arthritis, to diabetes, heart disease and mood disorders.  One Ontario study showed that people who are food insecure incur about $3800 in health care costs per year compared to $1608 for someone wo has enough to eat.
  • As this is largely an income issue, elimination of household food insecurity requires secure, adequate income for all to be able to pay for housing, food and other basics. Specifically, government policies can promote income security through:
    • Basic income guarantees,
    • Employment policies, income transfers and tax subsidies, exemptions and credits; and
    • Social assistance and disability pension rates that provide sufficient income to pay for basic needs, including food and the extra costs of prescribed special diets.

Click here to download Gerry’s presentation: Dietitians of Canada Position on Individual and Household Food Insecurity

Our final speaker, Jammi Kumar spoke about the “First Nations Food Systems Program” and what can be done to strengthen capacity and resilience at a community level.

Jammi explained that in many First Nations communities there are high rates of food insecurity and chronic disease such as diabetes, heart failure and cancer; but the communities that get involved in the First Nations Food Systems Program are determined to address the issue by drawing together and building on their assets.

The program is designed increase the capacity of rural and remote communities to produce and eat fresh, locally grown food.  The program strategies include:

  • Community gardens (supported by a grant)
  • Community engagement and training
  • Community food preservation training and support
  • Formulation of community agriculture-food plans
  • Organizational structures for sustainable food production

In addition to the healthy eating benefits, the program also encourages food and agriculture-related businesses that create jobs, re-circulate financial capital in the community, and contribute to the community’s economic development.

Click here to download Jammi’s presentation: First Nations Food Systems Project


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