Understanding Food Security
People are food secure when they have stable access to enough nutritious and culturally appropriate food to support a healthy and active life. By contrast, people who are food insecure worry about running out of food, compromise on food quality in order to eat enough, or go hungry, often missing meals, because of lack of money for food.
Approximately 800 million people around the world are undernourished, almost one fifth of the world’s population. Globally, some progress has been made during the past decade, with the number of people facing hunger decreasing by more than 150 million over the last decade, but due to increased conflict in parts of the world, the numbers have begun to rise again.
It is particularly troublesome that in Canada, a country of considerable wealth and abundant farmland, over four million Canadians face these issues. This means that one in eight households and one in six children are affected by food insecurity. The impacts are substantially greater in northern regions, with 60% of children in Nunavut living in food insecure households. Unlike global advances, in the past decade there has been no decrease in food insecurity in Canada, and numbers are rising in some provinces.1
Canada does not have a food shortage problem, but we do have a poverty problem and a food distribution problem.
Regardless of the underlying causes, the impact of food insecurity is devastating:
- Chronic disease increases – food insecurity is associated with higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dental problems and other nutrition related health issues.
- Healthcare costs rise – people who are living with severe food insecurity cost the health care system 121% more. A recent Dietitians of Canada report estimates the cost of poverty on the health care system is an additional $7.6B annually.
- Mental health suffers – mental health problems are more common among people who are food insecure, while children who are food insecure may experience an increase in an array of behavior problems including: mood swings, fighting, hyperactivity, aggression and anxiety.
- Loneliness increases – poverty and food insecurity increase social isolation.
- Learning suffers – research shows a strong correlation between diet quality and concentration, alertness and academic performance (improved test scores, general math and reading scores) and positive social behaviours. Children who suffer food insecurity are more likely to be suspended from school and have difficulty getting along with peers.
There are no easy solutions for this daunting issue. But there are actions we can take.
Passionate community leaders, food experts and organizations are demonstrating leadership, and innovation to make a difference. Given the direct link between poverty and food insecurity, public policy and national investments are also essential. Various levels and departments of governments are moving forward. Knowledge sharing and collaboration are on the rise.
We all need to work together to tackle this social and public issue. We also need to work in ways that recognize the critical contribution that comes from community and individual empowerment. The Centre seeks to provide an important voice and support for change.
- 1 We reference research by the PROOF report of 2014 extensively throughout this website. Source: Tarasuk, V., Mitchell, A., Dachner, N. (2016). Household food insecurity in Canada, 2014. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from http://proof.utoronto.ca.