Report says nutritious food unaffordable for some H-N residents – Simcoe Reformer

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A growing number of Haldimand and Norfolk residents don’t have enough money to buy the food they need for a healthy diet.  

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The Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit monitors the affordability of food in the counties using the Nutritious Food Basket survey. The survey calculates the average lowest cost of each food item (fruits, vegetables, protein foods, whole grains) for individuals in various age and sex groups, and the monthly cost of nutritious eating for different household types. 

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Food prices were collected from nine grocery stores in Haldimand and Norfolk last May.  

The survey determined the average monthly cost of a healthy diet for a family of four in 2023 was $1,222.43, or just over $259 a week, up 5.5 per cent from 2022.  

“Food affordability data is analyzed in relation to income and housing costs to determine whether people in our communities have enough money to afford a healthy dietary pattern,” said Laura Goyette, a public health dietician who presented a report to Haldimand and Norfolk’s health and social services advisory committee on Monday. “The 2023 analysis reveals that for many, incomes are not enough to cover even the basic expenses.” 

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In 2021-2022, about one in six households in Haldimand and Norfolk counties experienced food insecurity. 

“That ranges from worrying about whether they can afford to buy food to physically skipping meals,” said Goyette. 

Individuals and families on low incomes are required to spend a higher share of their income to eat well. For example, a family of four earning a median income would have to spend 12 per cent of their income on food, according to the report. If that four-person family has a full-time minimum wage earner, the percentage of income spent on food jumps to 27 per cent.  A family of four with an Ontario Works recipient would spend 40 per cent of their income on food. 

The situation is dire for a single person on the Ontario Disability Support Program receiving $1,372 a month. After paying rent for a one-bedroom apartment and food, the survey calculates they’d be left with $85.42 to pay for all the other basic necessities, including phone bills, transportation, childcare, medication and household and personal care items.  

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The worst-case scenario presented in the report is for a single person collecting $868 a month through Ontario Works who is about $146 in debt every month after paying rent for a bachelor apartment and food. 

“The income does not even cover rent and food, the most basic necessities of life,” said Goyette. “Ontario Works rates have been frozen without increase for five years and are one of the few Ontario benefits not indexed to inflation.” 

Shelley Ann Bentley, chair of the health and social services advisory committee, said she has noticed a change in people’s shopping habits. 

“Yesterday I was in the grocery store. Normally you see families and they’ve got their buggy overloaded. Now you’re watching these young families pick through the sales and come out with just the bare minimum. It’s very sad.” 

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Food insecurity is a significant public health problem, said Goyette, which has been linked to chronic and infectious diseases, injury, poor oral health, poor mental health, premature death and higher healthcare costs. 

While Goyette said community food programs “do an incredible job providing emergency relief, research shows they don’t reduce the rate of food insecurity.” 

“Additionally, estimates show that only 21 per cent of food insecure households use food banks, indicating that food charity does not reach the vast majority of those in need.” 

The board of health supported sending a letter to the provincial government recommending Ontario Works rates be indexed to inflation. The report also included local initiatives to address the problem, including affordable housing and transportation; a childcare fee subsidy; dental care for low-income children and seniors; and prenatal nutrition programs.  

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