Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Food Insecurity of Low-Income Lone Mothers and Their Children in Atlantic Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Food Insecurity of Low-Income Lone Mothers and Their Children in Atlantic Canada

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Objective: To examine the occurrence and predictors of hunger and food insecurity over the past year and month among low-income mother-led households in Atlantic Canada.

Method: The Cornell-Radimer Questionnaire to Estimate the Prevalence of Hunger and Food Insecurity was administered weekly for a month, with modifications, to a community sample of 141 lone mothers who took part in a larger dietary intake study. Eligible women included those living alone with at least two children under the age of 14 years in the four Atlantic Provinces and having an annual income less than or equal to Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off.

Results: Food insecurity over the past year occurred in 96.5% of households. Child hunger was similar to maternal hunger over the one-month study period (23%), however, it was lower than maternal hunger over the past year. On multiple logistic regression analysis, maternal hunger over the past year was predicted by maternal age over 35 years (p<0.0005), and Nova Scotia residence (p=0.03). Child hunger over the past year was also predicted by maternal age over 35 years (p=0.009). Families from New Brunswick experienced less food insecurity over the past month at both the household (p=0.01) and maternal levels (p<0.0005).

Discussion: Provincial policies that might contribute to the regular occurrence of food insecurity in these families should be investigated.

Food insecurity in a developed nation context has been defined as "the inability to obtain sufficient, nutritious, personally acceptable food through normal food channels or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so."1 Hunger is an extreme manifestation of food insecurity, and refers to an individual's uneasy or painful sensation of not having enough to eat. Household members may have different experiences of hunger and food insecurity because of intra-household food provisioning that favours the needs of one or more family members over others.3'4

The 1998/99 National Population Health Survey (NPHS) estimated that 10% of Canadians experienced food insecurity with children being the most likely age group to live in a food insecure household.5 The NPHS noted that singlemother households experienced the highest rate of food insecurity with 32% reporting some insecurity.5 Food purchasing power in poor households is compromised by many factors including the relative high cost of housing and utilities combined with low social assistance support and low minimum wage. The poverty rate of lone mothers with children in Atlantic Canada is the highest in the country at 66.4%, and their average annual income is only 63% of the poverty line.6 Despite this high rate of at-risk households, we know very little about food insecurity in this population living in an economically depressed region of the country - e.g., how often it occurs among poor households, and which households are most susceptible? As part of a larger study on the diets of lone mothers in relation to their children, we examined the occurrence and predictors of food insecurity in a geographically dispersed population of low-income mother-led households in Atlantic Canada.

METHODS

Women were eligible for the study if they were lone mothers living with two or more children under the age of 14 years in the four Atlantic provinces (Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island), and if their annual household income was less than or equal to Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off (LICO) for the provincial district or region.7 Women in this category could be on social assistance, or among the working poor.

There is no available sampling frame for this population; indeed these women might be considered among the `difficult to sample' described by various authors as critical populations to study but difficult to include in regular survey research.8,9 The use of network or multiplicity sampling is one suggested non-probability sampling strategy for such groups and we used this approach to create 12 community clusters. …

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