Public Health releases new food affordability data – the numbers are dismal

It’s becoming more and more difficult – and, in some cases, impossible – for an increasing number of Grey-Bruce households to afford sufficient food each month, as incomes fail to keep pace with rising costs for food and other basic living expenses.

That’s according to new Grey Bruce Health Unit data on food affordability, which found it costs nearly $1,100 for a family of four – with two adults and two children – and almost $400 for a single-person household to buy basic groceries for the month.

Based on those costs, a family of four on Ontario Works would have to spend 40% of their income on food alone. After also factoring in the average cost of rent, that household would have only $431 remaining each month for all other expenses.

Meanwhile, a family of four in which both parents make minimum wage would have to spend 28% of their monthly income on food and, when combined with rent, would have only $1,644 remaining each month for all other expenses, including utilities, clothing, and transportation.

A single-person household that relies on Ontario Works would require 46% of their income for food. After factoring in rent, that household would be short just over $400 a month before covering any other expenses.

“These scenarios show that for low-income households in Grey-Bruce, current income levels are not adequate to pay for basic living costs, including food and housing,” says Jason Weppler, Program Manager of the Grey Bruce Health Unit’s Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention program.

Public Health’s new local food affordability data is being released in conjunction with both World Food Day (Oct. 16) and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (Oct. 17).

Food insecurity – having inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints – is a serious public health issue that is due to insufficient income. It cannot be addressed by traditional food charity, such as food banks.

The solution lies in policy changes and community responses that address income inequalities, access to safe and affordable housing, and accessible transportation. Ensuring all Grey-Bruce residents have access to the income needed to meet their basic needs, including food, will improve community well-being and reduce the strain put on our healthcare system, investing in our community’s future.

Recent studies have found that about one in six people in Ontario lives in a household experiencing food insecurity. About one in five Canadian children live in a food-insecure household.

“Food insecurity has severe physical, mental, and social health impacts,” says Weppler. “Exposure to severe food insecurity during childhood puts kids at greater risk of conditions like asthma, depression, and suicidal ideation in adolescence and early adulthood. Food insecure people are also more likely to have chronic health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, and are more likely to suffer from negative mental health impacts like depression. Also, when households do not have enough food, health care costs increase by 23 to 121%, with costs increasing relative to the severity of food insecurity experienced.”

To collect data on food affordability, Public Health surveyed more than half a dozen local grocery stores for the cost of dozens of food items, listed in the newly updated Ontario Nutritious Food Basket Survey, piloted this year. Public Health then used those prices to determine the monthly food costs for a variety of household types.

Canada’s Food Price Report 2022 says overall food prices climbed by 3 to 5% from 2021 to 2022 and are expected to increase by another 5 to 7% this year. The report predicts the cost of food for a family of four will be $14,767 this year, up $966 from 2021.