Food poverty stressing P.E.I. health system: researcher

A lack of adequate access to nutritional food for some people is driving up health-care costs and the problem could be even worse on P.E.I. than in other parts of Canada, says the researcher behind a new study.

Not being able to afford enough nutritious food 'erodes' individuals' health

A recent study shows the average health-care costs more than double for Canadians who have a serious problem accessing nutritious food.

People who can't afford to buy enough nutritional food drive up health-care costs and the problem could be even worse on P.E.I. than in other parts of Canada, says the researcher behind a new study.

Valerie Tarasuk, a nutritional sciences professor at the University of Toronto, tallied a year's worth of health-care spending for thousands of Ontario adults who identified as food insecure in a StatsCan survey. The results of Tarasuk's study were just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Tarasuk says health costs were 23 per cent higher for people who are marginally food insecure, which is defined as people having small barriers to getting the food they need.

Health-care costs more than double for people who were severely food insecure.

Tarasuk says these costs were higher across the board, including visits to physicians, hospitalization, same-day surgery and emergency room visits.

'Erodes their health'

Tarasuk says when people talk about the problem of food insecurity and the need for intervention, people wonder where the money will come from.

"What this study says is we're spending money now. We're just spending it out of our health-care spending," she said.

Tarasuk's research shows the average health-care bill for someone who is severely food insecure is almost $1,100 more a year, and that doesn't include drug costs, which also will be driven higher.

"Food insecurity erodes people's abilities to manage chronic conditions, and it erodes their health so it predisposes them to develop additional health problems," she said.

Tarasuk thinks food insecurity is putting even more pressure on health-care spending on the Island because the percentage of households facing this problem here is higher than in Ontario.

In 2012, 16 per cent of P.E.I. homes faced food poverty, versus 12 per cent in Ontario.

Tarasuk hopes her findings prompt federal and provincial politicians to address food poverty, including the possibility of setting a guaranteed annual income. 

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