P.E.I. still worst province for children not getting enough healthy food

While food insecurity as a whole has dropped in P.E.I. for the first time in a decade, the latest research shows the percentage of Island children going hungry hasn't changed.

More than one in five children in P.E.I. facing food insecurity, latest research finds

The percentage of households not able to afford enough healthy food has dropped in P.E.I., but the percentage of children living in food insecure households hasn't. (CBC )

The percentage of Island children not getting a healthy diet is still the worst in the country, the latest research shows.

The PROOF study released to CBC News Tuesday does show, however, the percentage of Island homes not able to afford a healthy diet in 2014 dropped 1.6 per cent, down to 15.1 per cent of households — or 8,700 homes. This is the first time P.E.I. has seen a decline in food insecurity since tracking started in 2005.

But principal investigator Valerie Tarasuk said it's too early to celebrate. 

"It's a small decrease. I wouldn't break out the champagne yet," said Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. "It's not big enough yet for us to be able to declare that there's really been a downward trend."

What's most concerning to Tarasuk is there has been no change in the percentage of Island children living in homes that are struggling to buy enough healthy food. That number still sits at 22 per cent, the same as when it was last tracked in 2012.

For me, the big concern here is while we've seen a small drop in the province overall, we've still got this very, very high level of children.- Valerie Tarasuk

"For me, the big concern here is while we've seen a small drop in the province overall, we've still got this very, very high level of children," she said.

Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia are the provinces with the worst record in the country when it comes to children facing food insecurity in 2014, followed by New Brunswick at 21 per cent.

"It's more than one in five [children] in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. That's a very, very high number and it really hasn't budged."

Tarasuk is anxious to see the details of the new child tax benefit promised by the Trudeau government, which Ottawa has said will lift 300,000 children out of poverty. 

"Will that be enough to shift the 22 per cent? It should be, and if it isn't I would say they need to go back to the drawing board," said Tarasuk. 

"The children living in families with those really low incomes are extremely high risk and so what needs to happen with those benefits, and with all benefits, is that we have to give more to those people at the very bottom."