Healthy food costs are on the rise in our community! Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health uses the Nutritious Food Basket as a tool to gather information from grocery stores across the region each year to check how much it would cost a person or family to buy nutritious food. The full report is available here: Ontario Nutritious Food Basket 2014.
In 2014, the information collected showed that, for a reference family of four in Wellington Dufferin Guelph (WDG), the basic estimated cost to eat healthy is $209.39 per week. This is a 7.4% increase from 2013. Over the last six years, from 2009 to 2014, there has been a 25% increase in the cost of healthy food.
It is important to compare incomes of different family scenarios to gauge how much income is required for some of the basic living expenses. This helps us understand who is at risk for not being able to afford healthy food. Even though food costs keep climbing, it is key to highlight that the percentage of income required for food (13%) and rent (16%) for an average Ontario family of four stayed relatively the same since last year. As a comparison, families and individuals receive income through social assistance and minimum wage jobs show a much more troubling picture. A family of four on Ontario Works (OW) may spend more than three times the amount on rent (53% of their income) and food (42%) compared to an average Ontario family of four.
A single person on OW is in the most difficult situation, a shocking 91% of income may go to rent, leaving a scarce amount of money to cover food costs and other basic living expenses. A single person on OW would need to spend 36% of their income to purchase healthy food. When we look at these scenarios it is clear that individuals and families with low-incomes do not have enough money to pay for their basic needs, including shelter and healthy food.
Food insecurity is a serious problem because of its harmful impact on health. The more obvious impacts include a lack of adequate nutrition to support optimum physical health which can increase the risk for lifestyle related chronic diseases. Poor nutrition can also make it harder for people to be productive at work or other areas of their lives. Then there are the damaging effects on mental health. Adults and children who are food insecure often have high levels of stress as a result of not knowing if food will be accessible at all times. The inability to access food can make it difficult to participate in many social activities that revolve around food, and can impact people’s ability to fully participate in community life. After learning about many of these impacts, it is not surprising that being food insecure is linked with depression and distress.
Our community cares! There are many community efforts in our region that are being taken to address the issue. Examples include the work of the Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination, which is championing efforts to eliminate poverty and address the root problems of not being able to afford healthy food. The Guelph Wellington Food Round Table’s Food Access Working Group as well as other community partners are all working to assist people in accessing healthy food. The Guelph Well-being initiative recently released a report on food insecurity and will be assisting local community groups in addressing priority areas that were identified locally. The Seed Community Food Hub Committee is another group that is working hard to establish a food hub in Guelph. They believe in creating a community space to bring people together with food to improve health, community, access and advocacy efforts.
Although all of these amazing initiatives are happening regionally, this work continues to need more support. Having enough money and physical resources to access healthy food is critical to eating well which, in turn, plays a major role in an individual’s health at any stage of life.
Lisa Needham, Public Health Nutritionist, Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health