It is time to make sure all P.E.I. children have enough healthy food to eat, says the head of the P.E.I. Food Security Network.

Jennifer Taylor, who is also chair of the department of human sciences at UPEI, was reacting to a study this week that showed more than one child in four on P.E.I. faces some level of food insecurity.

'We have the most kids — save Nunavut, that's the only place higher — that are possibly going to bed hungry.' — Jennifer Taylor

The study found almost 9,000 homes with some food insecurity issues in 2011, and in about 1,500 of those it was so severe parents and children would regularly go without food for long stretches of time.

"It's a social problem. It's not a nutritional problem [but] it has nutritional outcomes," said Taylor.

"This is an embarrassment. We have the home of Green Gables, we have beautiful beaches, we have friendly, generous people and we have the most kids — save Nunavut, that's the only place higher — that are possibly going to bed hungry or going the whole day without food. This is a crisis and we need to deal with it."

Taylor said the minimum wage should be $12 an hour or more on P.E.I. to better reflect the cost of living.

Minister caught off guard by extent of problem

Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty responded to the report with some surprise.

"It is certainly something that is not only surprising but also disheartening in many ways," said Docherty.

"I want more detail than what I was able to get out of this report, to figure out just exactly what is happening here."

Docherty said food insecurity has a number of causes, noting the report said most Canadians who have issues with food security actually have jobs. Regarding an increase in the minimum wage, Docherty said that does not fall under the Community Services Department, but she noted any change would have to be done in consultation with the businesses that would have to pay the wages.

UPEI is currently researching food costs and how they relate to social assistance rates in the province. The P.E.I. government is also reviewing assistance rates this fiscal year. Docherty said government needs to gather all the information it can in order to solve this problem.