Close to half of N.B. families can't afford to eat well, group says

Many New Brunswick households could not afford the nutritious food basket Health Canada describes as healthy eating, says a non-profit group that surveyed food costs in three New Brunswick cities in November.

Survey finds a family of 4 would need income of $70,084 to follow Health Canada diet

The survey found the cost of a nutritious food basket in New Brunswick in 2016 was $297 a month for a single person and $834 a month for a family of four. (CBC)

Close to half New Brunswick households could not afford the nutritious food basket Health Canada describes as healthy eating, says a non-profit group that surveyed food costs in three New Brunswick cities in November.

A family of four would need an annual income of $70,084 to shop as Health Canada suggests, according to the survey by the New Brunswick Front for Social Justice. 

The median household income in New Brunswick in 2016 is $70,835, according to Statistics Canada.

A single person in New Brunswick would need an annual income of $23,073 to eat well, according to the survey by the Moncton-based non-profit.

The survey also found that nutritious food was most expensive at Atlantic Superstores, costing a single person an additional $55 a month compared to the cheapest option, Foodland stores.

The costliest place to get healthy food was Bathurst, where someone would have to spend an additional $32 a month compared with other cities, something researchers found "disturbing" because of the lower median income in Bathurst.

67 items in basket

The national nutritious food basket was developed as a way to monitor food costs and how affordable healthy food is across the country. 

In November, the Moncton group looked at the cost of the basket at 10 grocery stores in Moncton, Saint John and Bathurst, visiting Sobey's, Atlantic Superstore, Foodland and Walmart.

The food basket recorded the price of 67 food items, including dairy, proteins, fruits and vegetables, cereal products and fats and oils.

The survey found the average cost of a nutritious food basket to be $297 a month for a single person and $834 a month for a family of four.

Health promotion 'urgent' matter

Researchers said the food basket cost less than it did in the spring because prices dropped since, but estimate they will rise again in 2017.

Sister Auréa Cormier, who spearheaded the study, said healthy food is practically inaccessible to a large portion of New Brunswick's population.

Sister Auréa Cormier says promoting healthy eating and accessibility to nutritious foods should be a priority of the provincial government (CBC)

Improving access is an urgent matter, she said.

The group is calling for:

  • Higher social assistance rates
  • A tax on junk food
  • A gradual increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour
  • Promotion in chain-store flyers of healthy food and more nutritious foods in the stores
  • Efforts by stores to purchase products from New Brunswick and the Maritimes

Cormier said she has been in contact with the Department of Social Development and was disappointed to be told there was likely no room in the 2017 budget to improve on any of these points. 

Promotion of healthy eating can have a big impact on the provincial health budget, Cormier said.

''People who are in poor health go to the doctor quite a bit more and need medication,'' she said.

New Brunswick has the third-highest rate of obesity in Canada, behind only Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories. About two-thirds of adult New Brunswickers are overweight or obese.