Local Health Unit looks to address root causes of food insecurity


During the month of November, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit say they will be focusing on the issues that affect food insecurity. 

The Health Unit explains that food insecurity is inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints and can affect anyone. Living with food insecurity means not getting enough of the vitamins, minerals and food energy needed for healthy growth and development and to maintain overall mental and immune health. 

Officials say evidence shows a nutritious food intake plays a positive role in healthy pregnancies and birth outcomes, healthy growth and development, and a risk reduction for chronic diseases later in life. Adding that addressing food insecurity will likely also decrease the use of the health care system.

The Health Unit says when money is tight there is less money in the budget for food. This can lead to skipped meals, poor mental, physical & oral health as well as put individuals at a greater risk of developing chronic diseases. Due to this, the Health Unit is trying to raise awareness for the root cause of food insecurity, and poverty.

To address this issue, the Nutritious Food Basket Program helps to identify the cost of food for families and shows that individuals and households living with food insecurity struggle to buy enough nutritious food after paying rent, bills, and other living expenses.

The findings were that the average monthly cost of a nutritious food basket in LGL for a family of four on Ontario Works, two adults (1 male, 1 female between 31 and 50 years), a female aged 4-8 and a male aged 14-18 was $1130 in June 2023. For a household with a monthly income of $2800, minus their rent which is an average of $1583 in LGL, they have $1217 for everything else, before accounting for the cost of food. By subtracting the average cost of food ($1130) this leaves them with $87 for all other expenses, including Hydro, transportation, insurance, basic phone and internet, child care, clothing and footwear, household supplies, toiletries, over-the-counter medications, extracurricular activities for children, minimal recreation and entertainment, and school supplies.

Food programs and charities are a short-term solutions to these issues. However, the Health Unit says the next step is considering long-term solutions to addressing food insecurity. They say access to a number of solutions can help to eliminate poverty. Ensuring social assistance rates and minimum wage provide for the basic costs of living is a start. Supporting and expanding tax filing initiatives targeted at low-income households can increase access to government subsidies. Ensuring access to safe, affordable housing, childcare and transportation is another factor. Finally, they list implementing basic minimum employment standards to reduce precarious employment as well as encouraging local businesses and agencies to become Living Wage employers who can also help with income issues.

A living wage is the minimum hourly wage a worker needs to earn in order to cover their basic expenses (i.e., housing, nutritious food, clothing etc.) and participate fully in their community. It is calculated yearly using community data and informs and advocates for discussion around what it costs to live in a given area. In 2023, the living wage for Leeds, Grenville and Lanark is $20.60. One thing an organization can do to support this movement is become a living wage employer. Living wage employers are certified organizations or companies that reflect the values of Living Wage Ontario and pay all employees at the rate of the living wage (or more) for the region they operate in.

Go to healthunit.org to get more information about Food Insecurity, the Nutritious Food Basket Program or Health Equity and Living Wage. You can also call 1-800-660-5853, email contact@healthunit.org or follow LGLHealthunit on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) or lglhealthunit.z on Instagram.

With files by CFRA's Connor Ray