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.
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.
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.”
In a new PROOF research article published in Canadian Public Policy, Lynn McIntyre, Daniel Dutton, Cynthia Kwok, and Herb Emery show that guaranteed annual income is effective in decreasing food insecurity among low income seniors in Canada. Learn more in the press release below.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Food Insecurity in Poor Canadian Seniors is Greatly Reduced when Guaranteed Annual Income Kicks in
Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement identified as a key driver of substantial decreases in food insecurity among the poorest seniors in Canada.
The low prevalence of poverty among Canadian seniors has been attributed to a guaranteed annual income: the Old Age Security program and its supplement for those with low incomes. One measure of extreme poverty is food insecurity. This study authored by Lynn McIntyre, Daniel Dutton, Cynthia Kwok, and Herb Emery, shows that guaranteed annual income is effective in decreasing food insecurity among low income seniors in Canada. Turning 65 and being eligible for this funding is associated with, on average, a 15 percentage point drop in food insecurity compared to baseline.
The authors use seven years of national-level data from the Canadian Community Health Survey to examine food insecurity prevalence among those aged 55 to 74. Focusing on low income single-person households (<$20K / year) reflected a statistically significant drop in those who were food insecure after the age of 65, coupled with a shift in source of income from wages or from conditional public assistance (e.g., workers’ compensation or welfare) to public pensions. As a result, the prevalence of food insecurity was cut nearly in half. This effect was most beneficial for those with low income and low wealth, indicated by not owning a home.
Low income home owners continued to experience low food insecurity levels throughout the observation period, which is intuitive since they could absorb short term shocks to their household budget by borrowing. In contrast, low income renters seemed to have the greatest benefits from the guaranteed annual income and approaching the level of home owners. Since this analysis was limited to those earning <$20K / year, these decreases in food insecurity are determined not only by the amount of money individuals receive but also the stability of the funding; none of the individuals in this study were significantly enriched by this policy yet the drop in food insecurity was sizable.
Food insecurity leads to higher health care costs and utilization, over and above regular poverty indicators. This study demonstrates that even small amounts of guaranteed annual income can have a potentially important impact on poverty and, in turn, costs borne by the rest of society. The current Liberal federal government overturned a policy change instated by the previous government changing the age of eligibility for Old Age Security from 65 to 67. The issue remains as to whether using an age-based demogrant is appropriate, and future work could identify alternative funding models that address poverty before individuals are eligible for Old Age Security.
Daniel J. Dutton is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Lethbridge’s Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy. His training is in population health and economics and he has a special interest in how policy can change population-level health outcomes. In the past he worked for the Ontario Ministry of Finance before moving to Alberta for his Ph.D.
“Reduction of Food Insecurity among Low-Income Canadian Seniors as a Likely Impact of a Guaranteed Annual Income” by Lynn McIntyre, Daniel J. Dutton, Cynthia Kwok, and J.C. Herbert Emery is available online, open access, for a limited time: http://bit.ly/CPP423d.
[PDF version of Press Release] This press release originally released by University of Toronto Press.
Legislation Debated as Responses to Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 1995–2012
McIntyre L, Lukic R, Patterson P, Anderson L, Mah C (2016)
Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, Published online
This study reviewed Hansard records for 4 jurisdictions – British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and the federal government – between 1995-2012 to examine the policy proposals put forth to address household food insecurity and how they were debated in legislation. Although legislators debated a variety of policy actions and acknowledged that inadequate income causes food insecurity, legislative proposals and tabled bills primarily focused on food-based charity responses, contributing to the validation of food banks as a policy response.
Of the 4 bills that received royal assent during the studied time period, only one had the explicit intent to address food insecurity – a bill to reduce the liability for unknowingly harmful food donations in British Columbia. 2 assented bills in British Columbia and Nova Scotia focused public health and health promotion and were criticized by some members for not addressing underlying issues to health, like food insecurity. An assented bill to regulate food labeling in Ontario schools received similar criticism for failing to address the component of poverty when discussing children’s health. At the federal level, no legislation intended to directly address food insecurity or contribute to its reduction was tabled.
Despite a growing literature on the the downloading of the responsibility for food insecurity from the public to the charitable sector, and an awareness among legislators that inadequate incomes causes food insecurity, little has been done to address this issue through income-based policies.
Household Food Insecurity in Canada: Problem Definition and Potential Solutions in the Public Policy Domain
McIntyre L, Patterson P, Anderson L, Mah C (2016)
Canadian Public Policy, 42(1), 83-93
This study investigated the discussion of food insecurity in Canadian politics by examining federal and provincial Hansard records. The researchers found that legislators tied food insecurity to food banks, despite evidence that food banks are unable to address the problem and that food bank statistics greatly underestimate it. While the discussion around inadequate income, the root cause of food insecurity, is promising, it appears that it is not the primary focus of political discourse around solving food insecurity.
For more information, visit Laura Anderson’s blog post, “Political Talk about Food Insecurity in Canada“, for the UTP Journal Blog.
Political rhetoric from Canada can inform healthy public policy argumentation
Patterson P, McIntyre L, Anderson LC, Mah CL (2016)
Health Promotion International, Published online ahead of print
This study investigated the prevalence of household food insecurity in census metropolitan areas and the effect of various local economic factors on changes in these rates. Examining data from the 2007-2012 Canadian Community Health Survey, the researchers found peak unemployment rates to be associated with the prevalence of food insecurity. These results support a growing literature that identifies employment conditions as central problems of food insecurity and suggest that policy initiatives to improve these conditions could reduce food insecurity.
Association between household food insecurity and annual health care costs
Tarasuk V, Cheng J, de Oliveira C, Dachner N, Gundersen C, Kurdyak P.
Canadian Medical Association Journal 2015; DOI:10.1503 /cmaj.150234.
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Homeowner versus non-homeowner differences in household food insecurity in Canada
McIntyre L, Wu X, Fleisch VC, Emery JCH.
J Hous and the Built Environ 2015; DOI 10.1007/s10901-015-9461-6
Food Bank Usage Is a Poor Indicator of Food Insecurity: Insights from Canada
Loopstra R, Tarasuk V.
Social Policy and Society 2015; 14(3): 443-455
Household Food Insecurity Is a Stronger Marker of Adequacy of Nutrient Intakes among Canadian Compared to American Youth and Adults
Kirkpatrick SI, Dodd KW, Parsons R, Ng C, Garriguet D, Tarasuk V.
Journal of Nutrition 2015 May 20. pii: jn208579. [Epub ahead of print]