Food Insecurity

These are publications resulting from or associated with the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership based at the University of Toronto funded in large part by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Housing Circumstances are Associated with Household Food Access Among Low-Income Urban Families

Household food insecurity is a pervasive problem in North America with serious health consequences. While affordable housing has been cited as a potential policy approach to improve food insecurity, the relationship between conventional notions of housing affordability and household food security is not well understood.  Furthermore, the influence of housing subsidies, a key policy intervention aimed at improving housing affordability in Western countries, on food insecurity is unclear. In this article, the authors undertook a cross-sectional survey of 473 families in market rental (n=222) and subsidized (n=251) housing in high-poverty urban neighborhoods to examine the influence of housing circumstances on household food security. Food insecurity, evident among two thirds of families, was inversely associated with income and after-shelter income. Food insecurity prevalence did not differ between families in market and subsidized housing, but families in subsidized housing had lower odds of food insecurity than those on a waiting list for such housing. Market families with housing costs that consumed more than 30% of their income had increased odds of food insecurity. Rent arrears were also positively associated with food insecurity. Compromises in housing quality were evident, perhaps reflecting the impact of financial constraints on multiple basic needs as well as conscious efforts to contain housing costs to free up resources for food and other needs.  Findings raise questions about current housing affordability norms and highlight the need for a review of housing interventions to ensure that they enable families to maintain adequate housing and obtain their other basic needs.

Assessing the relevance of neighbourhood characteristics to the household food security of low-income Toronto families

Objective: Although the sociodemographic characteristics of food-insecure households have been well documented, there has been little examination of neighbourhood characteristics in relation to this problem. In the present study we examined the association between household food security and neighbourhood features including geographic food access and perceived neighbourhood social capital. Design: Cross-sectional survey and mapping of discount supermarkets and community food programmes. Setting: Twelve high-poverty neighbourhoods in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Conclusions: Our findings raise questions about the extent to which neighbourhood-level interventions to improve factors such as food access or social cohesion can mitigate problems of food insecurity that are rooted in resource constraints. In contrast, the results reinforce the importance of household-level characteristics and highlight the need for interventions to address the financial constraints that underlie problems of food insecurity.

Food Insecurity and Participation in Community Food Programs among Low-income Toronto Families

Canadian Journal of Public Health 2009, 100(2).  Responses to food insecurity in Canada have been dominated by community-based food initiatives, while little attention has been paid to potential policy directions to alleviate this problem. The purpose of this paper is to examine food security circumstances, participation in community food programs, and strategies employed in response to food shortages among a sample of low-income families residing in high-poverty Toronto neighbourhoods. Results: Two thirds of families were food insecure over the past 12 months and over one quarter were severely food insecure, indicative of fooddeprivation. Only one in five families used food banks in the past 12 months and the odds of use were higher among food-insecure families. One third of families participated in children’s food programs but participation was not associated with household food security. One in 20 families used acommunity kitchen, and participation in community gardens was even lower. It was relatively common for families to delay payments of bills or rent andterminate services as a way to free up money for food and these behaviours were positively associated with food insecurity.  Discussion: While documenting high rates of food insecurity, this research challenges the presumption that current community-based food initiatives are reaching those in need. Public health practitioners have a responsibility to critically examine the programs that they deliver to assess their relevance to food-insecure households and to advocate for policy reforms to ensure that low-income households have adequate resources for food.