P.E.I. needs to do more to ensure Island children have safe, nutritious food to eat, says the author of a national report on food insecurity.

Valerie Tarasuk's research found P.E.I. ranked second worst in the country, behind only Nunavut, with 27 per cent of children living in homes that don't have enough money to buy enough healthy food. Nationally, the percentage was 17 per cent.


Social assistance payments need to be increased so children have enough to eat, says Valerie Tarasuk. (CBC)

The University of Toronto researcher would like to see the P.E.I. government increase social assistance payments and offer more tax credits for low-income Islanders.

"They've got to look at income adequacy," she said.

"To have 27 per cent of children in homes that are affected by food insecurity, that speaks to the fact that people don't have enough money in their purses to go grocery shopping in the way that they need to."

Newfoundland and Labrador has cut its level of food insecurity level by a third after launching an aggressive poverty reduction strategy in 2006, said Tarasuk. At 11 per cent, the province now has the lowest level of food insecurity in the country.

'It leaves an indelible mark on those children's health.' — Valerie Tarasuk

When money is tight the first foods people give up are milk products and fruit, followed by vegetables. All that can be harmful for children.

"They are more likely to have physical and mental health problems," said Tarasuk.

"Depression, asthma , things that are chronic conditions that will dog them for the rest of their lives. So to have children growing up in homes that are affected by food insecurity, and particularly the severe state, that's a very negative thing. It leaves an indelible mark on those children's health."

The Statistics Canada data Tarasuk used for the report shows 1,500 Island households were experiencing severe food insecurity in 2011.  

Tarasuk's research found food insecurity in the country ranged from limited food selection and worries about running out, to going full days without food.

For mobile device users: What should the government do about children going hungry on P.E.I.?