New Research & Fact Sheet – Provincial Policy Levers to Reduce Household Food Insecurity

Screenshot of fact sheet: Provincial Policy Levers to Reduce Household Food Insecurity

Download the fact sheet here: https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/PROOF_FACTSHEET_Provincial-policies-052021.pdf

PROOF has recently published a new study in the journal, Preventive Medicine, looking at the roles of provincial policy and economic environment on food insecurity. This new PROOF fact sheet summarizes some of the findings from this study.

For more information about this research, please see:
Men, F., Urquia, M.L., Tarasuk, V., 2021. The role of provincial social policies and economic environments in shaping food insecurity among Canadian families with children. Preventive Medicine 148, 106558. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743521001420

To see our other factsheets on food insecurity in Canada, visit https://proof.utoronto.ca/resources/fact-sheets.

New Research – Food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic: food charity, government assistance and employment

Image of a 3D dollar sign with cutouts in the shape of a COVID-19 virus.

Our new study, “Food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic: food charity, government assistance and employment”, published in Canadian Public Policy, looks at the face of food insecurity in the early days of the pandemic as it relates to employment and the new federal funding for food charity. We analyzed data from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Perspective Survey Series 2 (CCPS-2), an online survey of all ten provinces in May 2020.

Simply having a job does not protect someone from food insecurity. Before the pandemic, 65% of food-insecure households relied on wages and salaries as their main source of income in 2017-2018. Which workers were most vulnerable to food insecurity when the pandemic hit?

People who continued to work outside the home (e.g., essential workers), those who had been working from home before the pandemic and continued to do so (e.g., customer service representatives), those who thought job loss was imminent, and those who stopped working due COVID-related business closure or layoffs. Also at very high risk of food insecurity were working-aged people outside the workforce entirely.

Previous research on the relationship between employment and food insecurity established that households relying on low-wage, part-time, temporary, or precarious jobs, or a single wage earner for multiple people were especially vulnerable. The job disruptions brought on by the pandemic may further exacerbate these households’ financial hardship and food insecurity.

This study also found that only 7.4% of the food-insecure households made use of food charity in the past 30 days. This is a stark reminder of the wide disconnect between food insecurity and food bank use that existed before the pandemic. It calls into question the federal government’s decisions to allocate an unprecedented $250 million to charitable food assistance programs in 2020 in the name of addressing food insecurity during the pandemic and an additional $140 million as part of the 2021 Federal Budget. These policy decisions further entrench food charity as Canada’s main response to this serious public health problem despite there being no evidence that food charity can move households out of food insecurity.

Image of skyscrapers with words "food insecurity" on them. A small truck with a short ladder labelled "food bank" is on the road, representing the disconnect between food insecurity and food bank use.

Read the paper here at Canadian Public Policy.

Men F, Tarasuk V. Food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic: food charity, government assistance and employment. Canadian Public Policy 2021;Published online. Available from: https://www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/cpp.2021-001

New Research – Severe food insecurity associated with mortality among lower-income Canadian adults approaching eligibility for public pensions: a population cohort study

Background

The prevalence of food insecurity among adults over 65 in Canada is less than half of that among adults approaching 65, possibly due in part to the public pension universally disbursed from the age of 65. Given research associating food insecurity with higher risk of premature mortality, our objective was to determine the likelihood that food-insecure adults with incomes below the national median would live past 65 to collect the public pension.

Methods

We linked respondents of the Canadian Community Health Survey 2005–15 to the death records from the Canadian Vital Statistics Database 2005–17. We assessed household food insecurity status through a validated 18-item questionnaire for 50,780 adults aged 52–64 at interview and with household income below the national median. We traced their vital status up to the age of 65. We fitted Cox proportional hazard models to compare hazard of all-cause mortality before 65 by food insecurity status while adjusting for individual demographic attributes, baseline health, and household socioeconomic characteristics. We also stratified the sample by income and analyzed the subsamples with income above and below the Low Income Measure separately.

Results

Marginal, moderate, and severe food insecurity were experienced by 4.1, 7.3, and 4.5% of the sampled adults, respectively. The crude mortality rate was 49 per 10,000 person-years for food-secure adults and 86, 98, and 150 per 10,000 person-years for their marginally, moderately, and severely food-insecure counterparts, respectively. For the full sample and low-income subsample, respectively, severe food insecurity was associated with 1.24 (95% CI: 1.06, 1.45) and 1.28 (95% CI: 1.07, 1.52) times higher hazard of dying before 65 relative to food security. No association was found between food insecurity and mortality in the higher-income subsample.

Conclusions

Severely food-insecure adults approaching retirement age were more likely to die before collecting public pensions that might attenuate their food insecurity. Policymakers need to acknowledge the challenges to food security and health faced by working-age adults and provide them with adequate assistance to ensure healthy ageing into retirement.

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New Research – Maternal Food Insecurity is Positively Associated with Postpartum Mental Disorders in Ontario, Canada

Background

Household food insecurity has been associated with pregnancy complications and poorer birth outcomes in the United States and with maternal mental disorders in the United Kingdom, but there has been little investigation of the effects of food insecurity during this life stage in Canada.

Objectives

Our objective was to examine the relationship between the food insecurity status of women during pregnancy and maternal and birth outcomes and health in infancy in Canada.

Methods

We drew on data from 1998 women in Ontario, Canada, whose food insecurity was assessed using the Household Food Security Survey Module on the Canadian Community Health Survey, cycles 2005 to 2011–2012. These records were linked to multiple health administrative databases to identify indications of adverse health outcomes during pregnancy, at birth, and during children’s first year of life. We included women who gave birth between 9 months prior and 6 months after their interview date, and for whom infant outcome data were available. Multivariable Poisson regression models were used to compare outcomes by maternal food security status, expressed as adjusted relative risks (aRR) with 95% CIs.

Results

While pregnant, 5.6% of women were marginally food insecure and 10.0% were moderately or severely food insecure. Food insecurity was unrelated to pregnancy complications and adverse birth outcomes, but 26.8% of women with moderate or severe food insecurity had treatment for postpartum mental disorders in the 6-month postpartum period, compared to 13.9% of food-secure women (aRR, 1.86; 95% CI, 1.40–2.46). Children born to food-insecure mothers were at elevated risk of being treated in an emergency department in the first year of life (aRR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.01–1.38).

Conclusions

Maternal food insecurity during pregnancy in Ontario, Canada, is associated with postpartum mental disorders and a greater likelihood of infants being treated in an emergency department.

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New Research – Who Is Food Insecure? Political Storytelling on Hunger, Household Food Choices, and the Construction of Archetypal Populations

Food insecurity, inadequate access to adequate food due to economic constraints, affects one in eight households. Food insecurity is a serious structural problem affecting health, but dedicated policy action has been limited. In this study, we analyzed causal stories in Canadian political discussion about household food insecurity in provincial and federal Hansard records over two decades. Specifically, we examined patterns of archetypes – dominant characterizations of individuals and populations who experience food insecurity – and how these were used to convey a collective consciousness about ‘model’ food-insecure persons or groups. Archetypes aligned only with selected evidence of populations actually experiencing food insecurity.

New Research – Food Insecurity Is Associated With Higher Health Care Use And Costs Among Canadian Adults

Description: Food insecurity predicts poorer health, yet how it relates to health care use and costs in Canada remains understudied. Linking data from the Canadian Community Health Survey to hospital records and health care expenditure data, we examined the association of food insecurity with acute care hospitalization, same-day surgery, and acute care costs among Canadian adults, adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics.
Compared with fully food-secure adults, marginally, moderately, and severely food-insecure adults presented 26 percent, 41 percent, and 69 percent higher odds of acute care admission and 15 percent, 15 percent, and 24 percent higher odds of having same-day surgery, respectively.
Conditional on acute care admission, food-insecure adults stayed from 1.48 to 2.08 more days in the hospital and incurred $400–$565 more per person-year in acute care costs than their food-secure counterparts, with this excess cost representing 4.4 percent of total acute care costs. Programs reducing food insecurity, such as child benefits and public pensions, and policies enhancing access to outpatient care may lower health care use and costs.

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New Research – Homeownership status and risk of food insecurity: examining the role of housing debt, housing expenditure and housing asset using a cross-sectional population-based survey of Canadian households

Studies have repeatedly found a strong, independent relationship between owning a home and lower vulnerability to food insecurity in Canada and elsewhere, but the reasons for this relationship are poorly understood. This aimed to examine the influence of housing asset, housing debt and housing expenditure on the relationship between homeownership status and food insecurity in Canada through examining cross-sectional data on food insecurity, housing tenure and expenditures, home value, income and sociodemographic characteristics derived from the 2010 Survey of Household Spending. Food insecurity prevalence was highest among market renters, followed by homeowners with a mortgage and mortgage-free homeowners. Substantial disparities in food insecurity exist between households with different homeownership status and housing asset level. Housing policies that support homeownership while ensuring affordable mortgages may be important to mitigate food insecurity, but policy actions are required to address renters’ high vulnerability to food insecurity.

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New Research – Association between household food insecurity and mortality in Canada: a population-based retrospective cohort study

Research drawing on a population-based sample of Canadian adults showed that those living in food-insecure households were more likely to die prematurely than their food-secure counterparts across all causes of death. Among adults who died prematurely, those experiencing severe food insecurity died nine years earlier than their food-secure counterparts. There is a graded positive association between household food insecurity status and hazard of premature mortality. This research shows that the markedly higher mortality hazard of severe food insecurity highlights the importance of policy interventions that protect households from extreme deprivation.

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New Research – Money speaks: Reductions in severe food insecurity follow the Canada Child Benefit

The rate of severe food insecurity dropped by one-third among low-income families after the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) in 2016, researchers from the University of Toronto have found.

The study is the first to look at the CCB’s impact on food insecurity, defined as the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraint.

“Our study results are yet another piece of evidence that improving household incomes reduces food insecurity,” says Valerie Tarasuk, a researcher at U of T’s Joannah & Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition and the senior author on the study.

“If you give poor families more money, they spend it on basic necessities like food – and the more desperate they are, the more likely they are to do this.”

The journal Preventive Medicine published the results, which also reveal that while the benefit disproportionately affected low-income families, it did little to eradicate food insecurity altogether.

The muted effect is not surprising, the researchers say.

“I think the impact on family food insecurity was limited because the benefit was not designed with this outcome in mind,” says Tarasuk, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences in the Faculty of Medicine who is cross-appointed to the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “To have a stronger impact on food insecurity, the government would need to put more money in the hands of the lowest-income families, which would be completely consistent with the intent of their federal poverty reduction strategy.”

Continue reading the U of T News article

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