Research highlights worsened food insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador

December 10, 2021

Food insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador had gotten worse, even before the pandemic. Our new study, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, compared food insecurity in the province in 2011-2012 and 2017-2018. The provincial government should act swiftly and deliberately with evidence-based solutions to address the increasing food insecurity.

In this study, we analyzed how the odds of being food-insecure in province differed between the two periods. The odds of being food-insecure in 2017-2018 rose by 49% from 2011-2012, meaning that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians became substantially more vulnerable in that time.

When we looked at changes in vulnerability among different subgroups within the province, one group stood out. The odds of renters being food insecure doubled between 2011-12 and 2017-18. The findings reinforce the need to monitor food insecurity rates and evaluate the impact of policies and programs like the province’s current Rent Supplement Program and upcoming Canada – Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Benefit.

The last time we were able to look at food insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador, we documented the unprecedented decline in food insecurity from 2007-2012 — the only time any jurisdiction in Canada has had a major decline since monitoring began in 2005. The province opted out of monitoring food insecurity between 2013-2016, leaving a 4-year gap in the data. We know that by 2018 the province had lost most of the progress they made.

The decline in food insecurity between 2007 and 2012 followed the introduction of a new poverty reduction strategy in 2006. The plan was not explicitly designed to reduce food insecurity, but it accomplished that by improving the financial circumstances of struggling households, particularly social assistance recipients.

In this re-examination of food insecurity in the province, we found that 65% of households relying on social assistance in 2017-2018 were food-insecure, a marked increase from the 46% in 2011-2012. This trend is worrisome and warrants immediate action.

The mandate letter of Children, Seniors and Social Development Minister, John Abbott, includes a review of existing government measures to address poverty, including housing and food insecurity, and the development of a renewed poverty reduction strategy. The current, ongoing review of the Income Support Program should consider the impact on food insecurity in the decision-making.

By all accounts the pandemic has further exacerbated the situation, and it is more important than ever to introduce and maintain interventions that protect households from food insecurity — interventions like indexing social assistance rates to inflation, which ended in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2012.

Given the serious impact of food insecurity on health and healthcare costs, the province should prioritize designing, implementing, and evaluating interventions to explicitly target this problem. Food insecurity and poverty have already emerged as prominent concerns for the upcoming Health Accord NL to address. If the province is to transform health, taking policy action to ensure households have enough money for basic needs is critical.

They already have valuable lessons from their previous success to draw from. There are also lessons from neighbouring provinces. Earlier this year, P.E.I. legislated explicit targets for food insecurity reduction that provide a foundation for guiding policy action. Newfoundland and Labrador should commit to a food insecurity reduction target and assess the impact of policy changes on food insecurity to ensure that the trends observed in our study are reversed, not exacerbated.

This blog post is based on:
Hussain, Z., Tarasuk, V. A comparison of household food insecurity rates in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2011–2012 and 2017–2018. Can J Public Health (2021).