Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Adults' Food Skills and Use of Gardens Are Not Associated with Household Food Insecurity in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Adults' Food Skills and Use of Gardens Are Not Associated with Household Food Insecurity in Canada

Article excerpt

Food insecurity is a serious population health problem in Canada, affecting 12.6% of households in 20121 and tightly linked to health and health care spending.2 Both the socio-demographic correlates of household food insecurity and its observed sensitivity to improvements in households' material circumstances3-7 suggest that this problem is largely one of resource constraints. Less is known about the importance of adults' food skills and self-provisioning activities in mitigating the effects of limited incomes on household food security, but community cooking and gardening programs and other educational initiatives aimed at strengthening individuals' basic food skills are widely perceived as valuable interventions to improve the food security of low-income households.8-12

While the resourcefulness and frugality of adults tasked with food shopping in the context of limited resources have been well documented,12-16 there has been little assessment of the relation between adults' food skills and household food security. The few Canadian studies of programs designed to strengthen the budgeting and cooking skills of at-risk adults suggest that these interventions have limited impact on food insecurity,8,17 but more structured evaluations of broader-scale, targeted nutrition education initiatives in the US have shown reductions in household food insecurity with improved food shopping and cooking skills (see for example refs.18-20). While changes in food insecurity have been assessed over relatively short periods and the participant groups have been highly selected, these program evaluations nonetheless suggest that at least among some population subgroups, household food insecurity is sensitive to adults' food skills. At a population level, however, the relationship between food skills and food insecurity remains unexamined.

Drawing on population survey data from two Rapid Response Modules on food skills that were appended to the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) in 2012 and 2013, this study was undertaken to i) determine the extent to which Canadian adults' self-rated food preparation and cooking skills and reported use of home or community gardens relate to their household food insecurity status; and ii) compare the food shopping and cooking behaviours of adults in food-secure and food-insecure households.

Data and measures

The CCHS is an annual, cross-sectional population survey of approximately 65,000 Canadians, 12 years of age and older. The survey is designed to be representative of 98% of the Canadian population, excluding individuals living on First Nation reserves or in institutions, full-time members of the armed forces, those without addresses, and residents of two remote northern regions of Quebec.21 Household food insecurity over the past 12 months is assessed using the 18-item Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM).

Rapid Response Modules were administered in 2012 and 2013 to a subset of 10,000 respondents residing in one of the ten provinces to assess their food preparation skills, meal planning and preparation practices, and food purchasing habits.22 The modules, developed jointly by the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion and Statistics Canada, were adapted from published food skills questionnaires using expert consultation and then subject to cognitive and qualitative testing.22 Both modules included a question asking respondents to describe their "personal ability to cook from basic ingredients". Possible responses ranged from "I don't know where to start when it comes to cooking" to "I frequently prepare sophisticated dishes".

The module administered in 2012 (FS1) also included five questions about food shopping habits, asking whether the respondent had a budget, used a written grocery list, planned meals prior to going shopping, used the recommendations from Canada's Food Guide, and selected foods based on their nutrition labels. The first question included an option to identify oneself as "never shopping for groceries"; respondents who never shopped for groceries were asked no further questions. …

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