Food insecurity an ‘urgent and worsening’ public health crisis: Simcoe Muskoka health unit

Click to play video: 'Who is ‘food insecure’ in Canada? New data shows ‘very high’ need'
Who is ‘food insecure’ in Canada? New data shows ‘very high’ need
Who is ‘food insecure’ in Canada? New data shows ‘very high’ need – Nov 14, 2023

Health officials are raising concerns about food insecurity in the Simcoe Muskoka region, with one in five households struggling to afford food.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s associate medical officer of health said food security is an “urgent and worsening public health problem” impacting families and individuals.

People are being “forced to cut their food budget in order to afford other essentials like housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, medical expenses and child care,” said Dr. Lisa Simon, Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officer of health.

Simon says food insecurity can range from being concerned about running out of food before there is money to buy more to an inability to afford a nutritious diet, going hungry or missing meals because of lack of food or money.

She notes that household food insecurity is linked to a range of health problems.

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“People living with food insecurity are at greater risk of experiencing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, as well as a number of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. They are also at greater risk of poor oral health, infections, and physical injuries.”

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The health unit warns that the health effects of food insecurity can be long-lasting, particularly among children, and can take a serious toll on health-care resources and spending.

“The negative effects of rising prices due to inflation are not felt equally. People with fixed incomes, or the lowest income earners, are worse off as they do not have the resources to protect themselves from rapidly rising prices,” Simon said.

In December 2023, the Barrie Food Bank saw 6,122 visitors, up 138 per cent from the year before, with at least one-third of all visitors being children.

The food bank also saw a 133 per cent increase in new visitors in December from the year before, with 519 new users.

“We just find that people are having difficulty making ends meet. We know that one in six food bank users have employment income, so what we’re finding is just the running gap between the lower class and the upper class,” said Karen Shuh, the food bank’s manager of funding and donor engagement.

The most significant growth year over year for the food bank was in the number of large families seeking food support, with just over 1,000 families coming to the food bank last month.

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Shuh said the number of families visiting the food bank was up 139 per cent compared with the year before.

“Although these programs are essential to bridge the gap for people who need food immediately, they are not designed to solve household food insecurity for individuals, and research has shown that they have not improved household food insecurity rates in Canada,” Simon said.

The increase in the number of families and individuals struggling can be linked to the extreme levels of inflation we have seen over the past few years.

A 2023 Statistics Canada report shows that household food insecurity in the country and Ontario increased significantly over the last few years and that it is at the highest rate in 17 years of monitoring.

To combat the issue of food insecurity, the health unit recommends people speak up about their experience to local groups and the government and try to access resources online.

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