Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention
October 20, 2022
Nutritious Food Basket & Food Insecurity
Household food insecurity refers to the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints. When an individual or family struggles to put food on the table, it is a sign of overall deprivation due to inadequate or unstable incomes. In these cases, food is often sacrificed to pay for other costs of living. Food insecurity has severe negative impacts on physical health, mental health, the healthcare system, and overall social well-being1. For children, living in a food insecure household is associated with childhood mental health issues, like hyperactivity, inattention, and greater risks of disordered eating, depression and suicidal ideation in adolescence and early adulthood2.
Household food insecurity status is determined through a survey of eighteen questions, ranging from experiences of anxiety that food will run out before there is money to buy more, to modifying the amount of food consumed, to experiencing hunger, and in the extreme, going a whole day without eating2. In 2021, it was reported that 48% of food insecure households in Ontario have a household member who earns their main source of income through wages, salaries or self-employment. However, the jobs are often precarious and low-paying (minimum wage), requiring a person to have more than one job to make ends meet. The results of this survey highlights that food insecurity extends beyond people who receive social assistance. Income solutions preserve dignity, address the root case of the problem, and ensure the basic right to food2.
Since 1998, the Ontario Public Health Standards have mandated local health units to monitor food affordability through population health assessments and surveillance using the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) tool. Food costing tools, such as the NFB3, measure the cost of basic healthy eating that represents current nutrition recommendations and average food purchasing patterns. The 2019 NFB cost was $211.20. However, The NFB tool was recently modified to capture Health Canada’s 2019 update of the National Nutritious Food Basket, the current market availability of many products, and the ability to find the price of foods through online grocery platforms - reflecting modern consumer purchasing behaviour. Due to this update, any NFB basket completed before 2020 cannot be compared to the 2022 NFB value.
Between May 16 and June 24, 2022, the WECHU and 27 other Public Health Units participated in a pilot to test the new NFB costing tool using a hybrid model of in-store and online data collection. Using the updated NFB costing tool, the average cost of the lowest price available for 61 different food items was calculated. Once the average basket price was determined for different age groups and genders based on the scenario, a 5% buffer was added to the final basket amount. This accounted for miscellaneous items not included in the calculation such as spices, hygiene products, and other household needs. Using these final numbers, a variety of income and family scenarios for our local community were calculated.
The 2022 cost of healthy eating for a family of four in our area is $241.66 per week. A sample of three income scenarios from the 2022 Real Cost of Eating Well in Windsor-Essex report can be seen in below (Table 1). This table compares monthly income received to the cost of rent and the 2022 NFB. As noted, a single male living on Ontario Works (a social assistance benefit program) could spend close to his entire income on the rent for a bachelor apartment, leaving a shortage of $291.61 after other expenses. This highlights how the inability to purchase food is less about food prices being too high and more about people with low incomes not having enough income to cover the costs of basic living, including purchasing nutritious food.
|Family of Four:
Old Age Security/GIS
|Total Monthly Income (Including benefits and credits)||$2,760.00||$863.00||$1,885.00|
|Estimated Monthly Rent||$ 1,367.00||$ 775.00||$ 976.00|
|Healthy Food (NFB, 2022)||$ 1,046.39||$ 379.61||$ 267.64|
|Monthly Income Remaining for All Other Expenses|
The NFB data has been used as an essential local component in the calculation of the Windsor-Essex County Living Wage. This data can also be used as an advocacy tool toward ends which enhance priority groups’ ability to purchase healthy food by:
- Setting a minimum wage rate that more closely aligns with costs of living in Ontario
- Lowering the income tax rate for the lowest-income households
- Developing a poverty reduction strategy that includes targets for reduction of food insecurity as well as policy interventions that improve the financial circumstances of very low-income households.
- Commiting to ongoing analysis of disaggregated race-based food-insecurity data, including Indigenous Peoples and Black communities in Ontario
The 2022 Real Cost of Eating Well in Windsor-Essex report will be disseminated to local social planners, anti-poverty advocates, Registered Dietitians, and other community partners who will benefit from using this data within their program planning and advocacy efforts. To view the full report, visit www.wechu.org/healthy-eating/nutritious-food-basket.
- Ontario Dietitians in Public Health, Food Insecurity Workgroup. Position Statement on Responses to Food Insecurity. https://www.odph.ca/upload/membership/document/2021-04/ps-eng-corrected-07april21_3.pdf. Published December 2020.
- Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA. (2022) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2021. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from https://proof.utoronto.ca/ September 2, 2022.
- Ministry of Health Promotion. Nutritious Food Basket Guidance Document. https://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/publichealth/oph_standards/docs/mhp/NutritiousFoodBasket.pdf May 2010.