A new study shows Canadians who have difficulty getting enough food become a huge cost to the health-care system.

The University of Toronto report suggests people who miss meals and get inadequate nutrition can develop diseases and health problems that will drain health-care dollars twice as fast.

Dr. Lynn McIntyre, from the University of Calgary, calls the study a "breakthrough."

McIntyre, whose research focuses on hunger and food insecurity, said it proves that not only do those who are hungry suffer, but taxpayers end up footing an expensive bill.

With Alberta's economy in a near recession, McIntyre believes up to 14 per cent of Albertans could be what's called food insecure. Food insecurity within a household is defined as when one or more members do not have access to a variety or quantity of food because they can't afford it.

Christine Chobotiak, a Calgary mother of six, is an example of someone who has struggled to feed her family and herself.

Health complications

"My children have always been fed, but I may not have gotten enough or anything some nights," said Chobotiak, who now lives in a shelter.

""That's extraordinarily stressful," said McIntyre. "Missing meals practically guarantees she'll have health problems," says McIntyre. "Leave her in that situation and you will get stress-related and other types of health complications."

The new study shows the average health-care costs over 12-months for Ontario adults 18 to 64 years old by household food security status. The totals range from around $1,600 for secure households. The cost was $2,800 for moderately insecure to $4,000 for to severely insecure households.

McIntyre has long called for guaranteed annual income and the study helps make that case.

"This is a call for provinces to actually do the right thing and try to recoup those costs," she said.

"If we dismiss these results, it's because we are actually not being truthful. This is a problem that is modifiable and preventable and is extremely costly."

She says this proves a need for a guaranteed annual income, or for the provinces to boost the minimum wage.