Nunavut, Northwest Territories food insecurity reaches record level: study

Food insecurity has reached a record level in Canada's North, according to a new study by the University of Toronto.

60% of children in Nunavut are living in food insecure households, say U of T researchers

Meena Hoyt in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, posted this photo of $28 grapes to the Facebook group Feeding my Family in January. A study by a University of Toronto research group says nearly half of households in Nunavut experienced some form of food insecurity in 2014. (Meena Hoyt/Facebook)

Food insecurity has reached a record level in Canada's North, according to a new study by the University of Toronto.

Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2014 is the fourth annual report by PROOF, a research team at U of T funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

"We're talking about a very serious problem. One that's inextricably linked to health and well-being and so many people are being afflicted. We've got an epidemic I'd say," said Naomi Dachner, the research manager for the study.

The study analyzed survey information from Statistics Canada's Household Food Security Survey included the 2013 and 2014 Canadian Community Health Surveys. 

A broad spectrum of respondents — from those who were worried their food might run out to those who did not eat for an entire day — were classified in PROOF's report as food insecure.

In the Northwest Territories, 24 per cent of households experienced a form of food insecurity, according to the report. In Nunavut, nearly 47 per cent of households experienced some level of food insecurity. 

The report says that's the highest levels of food insecurity in the two territories since monitoring began in 2005.

Dachner says the level of food insecurity in the North is particularly worrisome for families with children.

In Northwest Territories, 29 per cent of children live in food insecure households, according to the report. In Nunavut, 60 per cent of children are living in food insecure households.

"Children who grow up in food insecure environments are more likely to have chronic conditions such as asthma," Dachner said.

"They're more likely to suffer from depression, have suicide ideation. And that's later on in life, so having that experience in early childhood has an effect for later years."

'State of emergency'

According to the report 12 per cent of households across the country – nearly 3.2 million Canadians — experienced some level of food insecurity.

"The rates in the North suggest a state of emergency," said Valerie Tarasuk, the lead author of the study in a news release.

"We've seen no substantial decrease in rates across the country over the past couple of years, despite poverty reduction strategies in many provinces. We think it's time for concentrated policy action."

The Household Food Security Survey Module was optional on Statistics Canada's 2013 and 2014 Canadian Community Health Surveys and British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon chose not to include it.

About 60,000 Canadians were surveyed about their households' experience with food insecurity over the previous 12 months.

Statistics Canada differentiates households that are marginally, moderately or severely food insecure based on the responses to 18 questions related to the affordability of food.

Whereas Statistics Canada reports on food insecurity count only people 12 years and older living in moderately and severely food insecure households, PROOF's report includes those who are considered marginally food insecure and uses population-weighted totals to include children.