This study assessed the affordability of a basic nutritious diet for selected household types relying on income assistance (IA) by comparing potential incomes to the costs of the National Nutritious Food Basket (NNFB) and other essential expenditures in Nova Scotia from 2002 to 2010, and examined the adequacy of IA allowances during this time period.
The cost of the NNFB was surveyed across a random sample of grocery stores in NS during five time periods: 2002, 2004/05, 2007, 2008 and 2010, and was factored into affordability scenarios for three household types relying on IA: a family of four, a lone mother with three children, and a lone male. Essential monthly expenses were deducted from total net income to determine if adequate funds remained for the NNFB.
For each time period examined, the findings demonstrated that all household types faced a significant monthly deficit if they purchased a basic nutritious diet. In each household scenario, the potential monthly deficits increased from 2002 to 2010, ranging from $112 in 2002 for a lone mother with three children to $523 in 2010 for a lone male.
Despite increases in allowances, these findings suggest that the risk of food insecurity has increased for IA-dependent households in NS. To address this public health challenge, public health practitioners must advocate for integrated, progressive and sustainable social welfare policies that ensure that individuals and families relying on IA have adequate income and other supports to meet their basic needs, including access to a healthy diet.
In recognition of the growing challenge that food insecurity has on population health, a multisectoral partnership in Nova Scotia has been working since 2001 to address province-wide accessibility to a nutritious diet. The participatory food costing (PFC) model has been at the forefront of provincial and national efforts to address food insecurity; a local foods component was incorporated in 2004. This model has engaged community partners, including those affected by food insecurity, in all stages of the research, thereby building capacity at multiple levels to influence policy change and food systems redesign. By putting principles of participatory action research into practice, dietitians have contributed their technical, research, and facilitation expertise to support capacity building among the partners. The PFC model has provided people experiencing food insecurity with a mechanism for sharing their voices. By valuing different ways of knowing, the model has facilitated much-needed dialogue on the broad and interrelated determinants of food security and mobilized knowledge that reflects these perspectives. The development of the model is described, as are lessons learned from a decade of highly productive research and knowledge mobilization that have increased stakeholders' understanding of and involvement in addressing the many facets of food security in Nova Scotia.