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Food insecurity a major problem, says health unit

Single adult on Ontario Works spends 139 per cent of income on food and rent
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The cost of three square meals a day has crept further out of reach for people with the lowest income in Simcoe Muskoka, a new report shows. The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s annual Nutritious Food Basket Survey shows that the cost of feeding a family of four rose eight per cent in the last year.

The survey shows that, locally, one in eight households — roughly 70,000 people — does not have enough income to support a basic healthy diet. Within that group, 1,500 children are going to school or to bed hungry, often on a daily basis.

“This is a serious public health problem in Ontario and Simcoe Muskoka,” said public health nutritionist Vanessa Hurley. “Children who go to school hungry may not reach their learning potential. Children who are food insecure experience more asthma and depression. Being food insecure can increase the risk of negative pregnancy and birth outcomes as well.”

The Nutritious Food Basket Survey reviews the cost of a specific set of food items and measures them against income levels and the cost of rent, utilities, transportation and other necessities.

This year, the survey found that a single adult, living alone on Ontario works is spending 139 per cent of their income on food and rent. A family of four on Ontario Works is spending 89 per cent of their income on food and rent.

Little or no money is left over for all other expenses (utilities, internet/phone, transportation, clothes, school supplies, medical, vision and dental care, child care, personal care and toiletries, etc.)

The situation is known as food insecurity, and it means more than just being short on cash, Hurley said. 

“By the time people are experiencing food insecurity they have not only run out of cash, but have tapped out other income sources – they have borrowed from others, used up credit, sold off valuables, moved to cheaper accommodations, delayed paying bills, etc. to get money for food,” she explained.

More details about the survey and the issue of food insecurity can be found on the health unit’s website at, or by calling Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.