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Survey gives insight into food affordability

Aug. 28 – Individuals and families on low incomes struggle to afford a healthy diet, especially as food prices continue to rise. Food insecurity and inadequate access to food due to financial constraints affects 11 percent of households in Haldimand and Norfolk.

Community Health Dietitian Emily Kichler will present numbers from the ‘Nutritious Food Basket’ (NFB) survey at the Board of Health Meeting in Simcoe Sept. 3.

The survey is collected by members of the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit. They visit six local grocery stores and obtain the average cost of a standardized list of food items to get an idea of how much it costs individuals and families to eat a nutritious diet each month.

Results from 2018 found that a family of four would spend around $857 on groceries per month. That number was up 5.8 percent from 2013. Early indications from 2019 show that prices have gone up 6.4 percent in the past 12 months alone, with the greatest increase impacting fruits and vegetables.

“We know that people who are food insecure often have higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and anxiety,” said Kichler. “In children, we see higher rates of asthma, depression and poor academic performance. This highlights why it’s such an important public and social health concern.”

Kichler called the recent jump in prices “disheartening” as many local families are already challenged to afford nutritious options.

In May of 2018, there were 4,229 cases of Haldimand and Norfolk residents receiving social assistance through Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program. Of those cases, 1,081 included children. Those on social assistance are more likely to experience food insecurity than the rest of the population. An individual in this region on Ontario Works would need to spend 108 percent of his income to afford food and rent alone.

The information gathered through the NFB, may be used to inform public policy, by-laws, create programs, and advocate for education and training opportunities to increase employment among low-income residents. It could also be used to encourage advocacy for increases to social assistance, minimum wage, and affordable housing options.

“We know that the root cause of food insecurity is poverty,” Kichler began. “So we would be looking for upstream solutions to address the social determinants of health to reduce health inequities.”

The Board of Health meets monthly at the County Administration Building in Simcoe. A list of schedules, agendas and minutes can be found at norfolkcounty.ca/government/agendas-minutes.