Healthy food has become unaffordable for many Muskoka residents

As the cost of living continues to rise at an unprecedented rate, the results of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s (SMDHU) 2022 Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey show that more residents are finding it difficult to put basic healthy food on the table and for some, it is nearly impossible.

The NFB survey is an important tool to monitor food affordability. Conducted annually, the NFB survey measures how much it costs residents throughout the region to purchase a basic healthy diet. The 2022 survey showed that it costs $1,159.92 for a family of four (two adults and two children) and $419.00 for a single-person household to buy basic groceries for the month.

For many individuals and families living with lower incomes, the cost of healthy food and rent uses most of their income, and in some cases, all or more. A family of four with one full-time earner making minimum wage, is spending 66 per cent of their income on food and rent, while a single adult, living alone on Ontario Works is spending 161 per cent of their income, with no money left over for non-negotiable living expenses like utilities or transportation.

“When people have no other option but to cut their food budget to pay for other essential fixed-expenses, they are experiencing household food insecurity,” says Vanessa Hurley, public health nutritionist and registered dietitian. “The struggle to put food on the table is real for many of our residents – one in six households are experiencing some level of food insecurity. Without access to nutritious foods, people may begin to experience negative health outcomes that can last a long time and even a lifetime.”

Individuals living with household food insecurity are more likely to suffer from poor physical and mental health, diabetes, hypertension and depression; for children, they are more likely to develop asthma and mental health conditions. The effects of food insecurity on the mental and physical health of residents of places is a substantial burden on the healthcare system, resulting in increased costs that impact everyone.

Household food insecurity is a serious public health issue that requires policy changes that work to improve the incomes of low-income households.

“What we need are policies and programs at all levels of government that reduce poverty and help people afford basic healthy food and the cost of living,” said Hurley. “This includes increased social assistance rates, jobs that pay a living wage, and more affordable housing options in our communities. We need to reduce household insecurity rates in our communities – it affects us all and we all have a role to play.”

For more details about the NFB survey, the issue of fgood insecurity, and how it can be addressed please visit the health unit’s website at smdhu.org or call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 weekdays from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

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