New food insecurity data for 2018/2019 from Statistics Canada

As part of the federal Poverty Reduction Strategy, the government identified household food insecurity as a key indicator for its Official Poverty Dashboard. Statistics Canada’s new report, Canadian Income Survey: Food insecurity and unmet health care needs, 2018 and 2019, marks the release of new data on food insecurity — the first from Canadian Income Survey (CIS) — and an important step forward in food insecurity monitoring in Canada.

The inclusion of food insecurity monitoring on the CIS now ensures systematic, annual evaluations of food insecurity. Consistent monitoring was not achieved through the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) because jurisdictions could opt out of measuring food insecurity in some years.

Having consistent monitoring of food insecurity as part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy is important for the development of its policy interventions and the evaluation of its impact. We applaud Statistics Canada’s commitment and progress in the annual tracking and reporting of food insecurity.

With 15.6% of people in the provinces living in food-insecure (marginally, moderately, or severely) households according to CIS 2019, this report highlights that food insecurity remains a serious problem in need of urgent action.

The report does not include the territories in the national estimates but does provide some territorial estimates and notes the CIS food insecurity rates for Canada remain virtually unchanged when territories are included, given the relatively small population. We have not shown the territorial estimates here since data for some levels of severities are too unreliable, but the available estimates can be found in Appendix Table A2a and Table A2b of the report. Food insecurity in the territories remains high, especially in Nunavut.

As noted in the report, household food insecurity data for CIS 2019 included months during the pandemic because questions about food insecurity refer to the past 12 months and collection for data on CIS 2019 took place in January, February, and July to September 2020 due to pandemic-related interruptions. The implications of this circumstances warrant further investigation.

Percentage of people living in food-insecure households* Number of people living in food-insecure households*
CIS 2018 CIS 2019 CIS 2018 CIS 2019
Canada 16.5% 15.6% 5,985,000 5,745,000
Newfoundland and Labrador 19.2% 17.8% 98,000 91,000
Prince Edward Island 16.2% 17.9% 24,000 28,000
Nova Scotia 21.2% 18.8% 198,000 178,000
New Brunswick 17.7% 15.3% 131,000 114,000
Quebec 13.9% 10.6% 1,162,000 892,000
Ontario 16.5% 17.0% 2,356,000 2464,000
Manitoba 19.1% 17.5% 240,000 224,000
Saskatchewan 17.2% 18.2% 187,000 200,000
Alberta 19.4% 18.4% 833,000 805,000
British Columbia 15.9% 15.5% 755,000 751,000

Source: Statistics Canada. Canadian Income Survey (CIS), 2018, 2019. Territories not included in national estimates. See Appendix Table A2a and Table A2b in Canadian Income Survey: Food insecurity and unmet health care needs, 2018 and 2019 for territorial estimates. *We’ve included marginal food insecurity in these prevalence estimates to provide a more comprehensive picture of food insecurity. (For more information, see our guide on measurement)

Although the change between CIS 2018 and CIS 2019 appears to be a decrease nationally and in some jurisdictions, only the reduction in Quebec was a meaningful, statistically significant difference — a trend also observed from CCHS data comparing 2017-2018 to 2015-2016.

The CIS 2018 and CIS 2019 prevalence estimates from CIS are notably higher than previous estimates using CCHS, suggesting the problem may be larger than previously thought. Statistics Canada has provided an examination of potential reasons for the difference between the two surveys in their report. Given differences in the survey sampling, data from CCHS in our status reports or elsewhere is not directly comparable to the data in this new report.

However, key patterns from previous examinations of national food insecurity data continue, such as the higher prevalence of food insecurity among families with children, especially those led by single mothers, and the lower prevalence of food insecurity among seniors.

The prevalence of food insecurity among Indigenous peoples living off reserve remains disproportionately high. In 2019, 28.2% of Indigenous peoples living off reserve aged 16 years and over lived in food-insecure households.

According to CIS 2019, 25.1% of persons over 16 years of age who a recent immigrants (immigrated 10 years or less) lived in a food-insecure household. When other household characteristics (e.g., income, housing tenure, income source) are taken into account, studies repeatedly indicate that immigration per se is not an independent risk factor for food insecurity in Canada. However, it is important to note that refugees cannot be identified through the data.

Race-based data was not collected in these years of the survey. For information on the relationship between race and food insecurity, see our previous status report using CCHS 2017-2018 data and “When it comes to tackling food insecurity, tackling anti-Black racism is an important part of the puzzle“.

The report also provides new statistics on food insecurity among people with disabilities, documenting the high prevalence of food insecurity among persons over 16 years of age with a disability. According to CIS 2019, 23.6% of persons over 16 years of age with a disability lived in food-insecure households.

Read the full report, Canadian Income Survey: Food insecurity and unmet health care needs, 2018 and 2019, on Statistic Canada’s website.

Updated February 14, 2022 to better highlight the circumstances of data collection noted in original report and the report’s findings around the high prevalence of food insecurity about people over 16 who recently immigrated to Canada.