In 2022, 6.9 million people in the ten provinces, including almost 1.8 million children, lived in a food-insecure household. This is a considerable increase from 2021 during a period of unprecedented inflation.
The new data release from Statistics Canada’s 2021 Canadian Income Survey (CIS) provides the latest update on food insecurity in 2022. While the CIS 2021 provides information on income and poverty using from 2021 tax files, hence its name, questions about food insecurity and other indicators are asked in the following year, from January to June 2022.
In this post, we’ve summarized and labelled the new data based on the survey collection periods and not the survey name. We think this is a more appropriate representation of the food insecurity data collected in these surveys.
Food insecurity in the ten provinces, 2022
Food insecurity is a large and persistent problem in Canada. The latest estimates show that it has worsened in 2022. The persistently high prevalence of household food insecurity across Canada highlights the need for more effective, evidence-based policy responses by federal and provincial governments.
Statistics Canada measures food insecurity using the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM), which consists of 18 questions about experiences of food deprivation over the past 12 months. These experiences range in severity from worrying about running out of food to going whole days without eating, all due to financial constraints.
Based on a household’s experience, they can be considered food secure or in one of 3 categories of food insecurity:
Marginal food insecurity: Worry about running out of food and/or limited food selection due to a lack of money for food.
Moderate food insecurity: Compromise in quality and/or quantity of food due to a lack of money for food.
Severe food insecurity: Miss meals, reduce food intake, and at the most extreme go day(s) without food.
Food insecurity varies across the provinces. In 2022, the percentage of individuals living in food-insecure households was highest in the Atlantic provinces — 23.6% in P.E.I., 22.7% in New Brunswick, 22.5% in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 22.0% in Nova Scotia. During the time of measurement, these provinces were experiencing especially high rates of inflation and unemployment.
In 2022, the percentage of people living in severely food-insecure households, meaning members had skipped meals, reduced food intake, or at the most extreme gone days without food due to a lack of money, varied from 6.6% in Alberta to 2.3% in Quebec. Quebec continues to stand out as having the lowest percentage of people living in food-insecure households and severely food-insecure households.
Food insecurity over time
In 2022, the percentage of people living food-insecure households has risen in every province, exceeding the pre-pandemic estimates from 2019. This was during a period of record inflation. The increase is particularly pronounced in the Atlantic provinces.
Differences in regional inflation may help explain why food insecurity had gotten so much more worse in some provinces. P.E.I had the highest percentage of people living in food-insecure households in 2022. During this time of record inflation, P.E.I has also had the highest inflation rate.
It is important to note that unemployment also varied in 2022, with the higher rates in the Atlantic provinces. Previous research has found that higher unemployment rates are associated with higher provincial food insecurity. The relationship between rising food insecurity and the high rates of inflation and unemployment during this time warrant further study.
Children living in food-insecure households, 2022
In 2022, 1 in 4 children under 18 in the ten provinces lived in a food-insecure household. That amounts to almost 1.8 million children, increasing from the almost 1.4 million in 2021. Over two thirds (69%) of these children, 1.2 million children, were in moderately or severely food-insecure households. The percentage of children living in food-insecure households was highest in P.E.I, where over a third of children (35.1%) are affected by some level of food insecurity. Our recent study shows that a more generous Canada Child Benefit for low-income families would reduce their probability of food insecurity.
Food insecurity and race
Food insecurity is racialized. People identifying as white/not a visible minority have the lowest prevalence of food insecurity. The highest percentage of individuals living in food-insecure households in 2022 was found among Black people at 39.2% and Indigenous Peoples at 33.4%.
The situation for Indigenous communities is likely even worse given the lack of representation of people living on First Nations reserves and some remote Northern communities in the national surveys used to monitor food insecurity in Canada, as well as the current lack of data on the territories in 2022.
There is a strong body of evidence showing that food insecurity can be reduced through policy interventions that improve the incomes of low-income households.
Reducing household food insecurity requires the commitment of public revenue and resources to ensure that income supports for low-income, working-aged Canadians and their families are adequate, secure, and responsive to changing costs of living, irrespective of their income source.
The estimates reported in this blog and the Statistics Canada resources cited should not be compared to estimates from the PROOF annual reports. In those reports, we present estimates of food insecurity at the household level, in line with the conceptualization of food insecurity as a household measure. In this post and most Statistics Canada resources, food insecurity is reported at the person-level, i.e. the percentage of people in food-insecure households.
There may be some minor differences in the provincial estimates of overall food insecurity in different graphs due to rounding.
PROOF will be publishing a more in-depth analysis of food insecurity in 2022 later this year.