Do you know what you are having for your next meal? The one after that? Is there any doubt in your mind that there will be food, or enough money for food for you, or for your children? Will you have a choice? Answering ‘no’ to any of these questions suggests that you may be facing food insecurity and that has implications beyond the next meal.
Food security is one of the keys to health and well-being. It relies on access to sufficient nutritious, safe food. Household food insecurity arises when a household worries about, or lacks, the financial means to buy food.
The question some will ask is how much of a problem is this in our wealthy province? The answer will surprise many: about one in nine households (11.8%) in British Columbia could be considered food insecure. A report by the BC Center for Disease Control (BCCDC) in collaboration with researchers from the University of Toronto published an analysis of household food insecurity in BC. Using data from 2011-12, the August 2016 report found that 11.8% of British Columbia households, about half a million people, fit the description for food insecurity.
Defining food insecurity is done using a range of values from secure, never having a problem accessing food, to severely insecure where a household has had to make extensive compromises, including disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
Food insecurity rates in BC differ depending on certain household characteristics. Among the roughly half-million people facing some food insecurity, about 91,000 face severe food insecurity. The BCCDC study found that one in six children under the age of 18 lived in households experiencing some level of food insecurity. Female lone-parent households with children under the age of 18 face the highest rate of insecurity at 34.2%, more than a third!
The study also found that among food-insecure households some two-thirds reported their main sources of income were wages, salaries or self-employment. And for families reliant on social assistance as their main source of income, the number of food insecure households jumped to more than three-quarters.
Food insecurity is a public health concern because it affects a household’s ability to afford nutritious food which in turn influences both the physical and mental health of those people. The BCCDC study looked at five indicators: perceived health, perceived mental health, healthy eating, adult obesity, and mood or anxiety disorders. What they found were that people living in food insecure households had poorer health than their food-secure neighbours across all five indicators.
Across the province there are a number of organizations, both government and social, working on the issues surrounding food insecurity. Learn more about food security in BC by visiting the BC Food Security Gateway at bcfoodsecuritygateway.ca
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for the Sunshine Coast and Powell River.