A number of studies have pointed to the pressure that housing costs can exert on the resources available for food. The objectives of the present study were to characterise the relationship between the proportion of income absorbed by housing and the adequacy of household food expenditures across the Canadian population and within income quintiles; and to elucidate the impact of receipt of a housing subsidy on adequacy of food expenditures among low-income tenant households.
The 2001 Survey of Household Spending, conducted by Statistics Canada, was a national cross-sectional survey that collected detailed information on expenditures on goods and services. The adequacy of food spending was assessed in relation to the cost of a basic nutritious diet.
The person with primary responsibility for financial maintenance from 15 535 households from all provinces and territories.
As the proportion of income allocated to housing increased, food spending adequacy declined significantly among households in the three lowest income quintiles. After accounting for household income and composition, receipt of a housing subsidy was associated with an improvement in adequacy of food spending among low-income tenant households, but still mean food spending fell below the cost of a basic nutritious diet even among subsidised households.
This study indicates that housing costs compromise the food access of some low-income households and speaks to the need to re-examine policies related to housing affordability and income adequacy.
Although the sociodemographic characteristics of food-insecure households have been well documented, there has been little examination of neighbourhood characteristics in relation to this problem. In the present study we examined the association between household food security and neighbourhood features including geographic food access and perceived neighbourhood social capital.
Cross-sectional survey and mapping of discount supermarkets and community food programmes.
Twelve high-poverty neighbourhoods in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Respondents from 484 low-income families who had children and who lived in rental accommodations.
Food insecurity was pervasive, affecting two-thirds of families with about a quarter categorized as severely food insecure, indicative of food deprivation. Food insecurity was associated with household factors including income and income source. However, food security did not appear to be mitigated by proximity to food retail or community food programmes, and high rates of food insecurity were observed in neighbourhoods with good geographic food access. While low perceived neighbourhood social capital was associated with higher odds of food insecurity, this effect did not persist once we accounted for household sociodemographic factors.
Our findings raise questions about the extent to which neighbourhood-level interventions to improve factors such as food access or social cohesion can mitigate problems of food insecurity that are rooted in resource constraints. In contrast, the results reinforce the importance of household-level characteristics and highlight the need for interventions to address the financial constraints that underlie problems of food insecurity.
Responses to food insecurity in Canada have been dominated by community-based food initiatives, while little attention has been paid to potential policy directions to alleviate this problem. The purpose of this paper is to examine food security circumstances, participation in community food programs, and strategies employed in response to food shortages among a sample of low-income families residing in high-poverty Toronto neighbourhoods.
Data from surveys conducted with 484 families and neighbourhood mapping were analyzed.
Two thirds of families were food insecure over the past 12 months and over one quarter were severely food insecure, indicative of food deprivation. Only one in five families used food banks in the past 12 months and the odds of use were higher among food-insecure families. One third of families participated in children's food programs but participation was not associated with household food security. One in 20 families used a community kitchen, and participation in community gardens was even lower. It was relatively common for families to delay payments of bills or rent and terminate services as a way to free up money for food and these behaviours were positively associated with food insecurity.
While documenting high rates of food insecurity, this research challenges the presumption that current community-based food initiatives are reaching those in need. Public health practitioners have a responsibility to critically examine the programs that they deliver to assess their relevance to food-insecure households and to advocate for policy reforms to ensure that low-income households have adequate resources for food.
Food insecurity, which has been recognized as an important determinant of health, is estimated to have affected almost one in ten Canadian households in 2004. Analyses of indicators of household food insecurity on several recent population health surveys have shed light on markers of vulnerability and the public health implications of this problem. However, the lack of detailed information on the economic circumstances of households and inconsistent measurement across surveys thwart attempts to develop a deeper understanding of problems of food insecurity. To better inform the development and evaluation of policies to address food insecurity among Canadian households, more effective monitoring is needed. This requires the consistent administration of a well-validated measure of food security on a population survey that routinely collects detailed information on the economic circumstances of households. Health professionals can contribute to the amelioration of problems of food insecurity in Canada by advocating for improved monitoring of the problem at a population level.
Factors underlying food-purchasing decisions were examined among a sample of low-income Toronto families.
A cross-sectional survey was completed among 485 families residing in high-poverty Toronto neighbourhoods. Food-security status was assessed using the Household Food Security Survey Module. Open-ended questions were included to examine respondents' food selection and management practices and their purchasing decisions for six indicator foods. Logistic regression was used to examine associations between factors influencing food-purchasing decisions, perceived food adequacy, and severity of food insecurity.
Twenty-two percent of families had been severely food insecure in the past 30 days. Respondents engaged in thrifty food shopping practices, such as frequenting discount supermarkets and budgeting carefully. Price was the most salient factor influencing food-purchasing decisions; the likelihood that families would report this factor increased with deteriorating food security. Preference, quality, and health considerations also guided food-purchasing decisions, but generally to a lesser extent as food insecurity increased. Household food supplies reflected constraints on food purchasing, and they diminished with increasing food insecurity.
Despite their resourcefulness, low-income families struggle to feed their families. Dietitians have an important role to play as advocates for adequate income supports to promote food security and nutritional health.