One of the roles of a registered dietitian is to monitor the cost of eating a balanced diet. In 2017, the cost for a family of four, according to the ‘Food Costing in BC’ report, was $1,019/month, an increase of $45 for the same foods in 2015 (which increased another $60 from 2013). This cost does not take into consideration special dietary needs, cultural or other food preferences, non-food items, take-out food or condiments, spices or kitchen equipment and utensils. When you compare this food cost to income, it becomes clear that the biggest impact is felt by those who have the lowest incomes. In 2012, 12.7 per cent or 485,000 people in BC population were food insecure.
The causes, food insecurity are complex, but lack of affordable housing would be top of the list. Finding shelter is a higher priority than eating nutritious food. As you can imagine, the effects of food insecurity are expensive, as they affect individual health and healthcare costs. A 2018 study, ‘The economic burden of not meeting food recommendations in Canada: The cost of doing nothing,’ found the economic burden of not meeting healthy eating recommendations is approximately $13.8 billion per year in Canada ($5.1 billion of which is associated directly with health care costs and $8.7 billion is associated with indirect costs such as lost productivity).
• Food insecure mothers are less able to sustain exclusive breastfeeding for as long as mothers living in food secure households.
• Food insecure individuals report higher levels of poor health, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and food allergies.
• Food insecure individuals with diabetes have less success managing their blood sugars
• Food insecure individuals are at increased risk of depression, distress (including feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness) and social isolation.
• Childhood hunger is an independent risk factor for depression and suicidal symptoms in adolescence and early adulthood.
• Food insecure children have poorer academic outcomes and social skills compared to children who do not experience food insecurity.
I think you get the picture. As a community, we need to figure out ways to promote household food security that maintain an individual’s dignity, because directly or indirectly, it affects us all. This includes getting involved in municipal politics, donating time or resources to non-profit organizations (Shuswap Food Action Society, Shuswap Family Resource Centre), and emergency relief (Salvation Army Food Bank, Second Harvest).
– Serena Caner is a registered dietitian at Shuswap Lake General Hospital