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

By Kirkpatrick, Sharon I.; Tarasuk, Valerie | Canadian Journal of Public Health, March/April 2009 | Go to article overview

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


Kirkpatrick, Sharon I., Tarasuk, Valerie, Canadian Journal of Public Health


ABSTRACT

Objectives: 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.

Methods: Data from surveys conducted with 484 families and neighbourhood mapping were analyzed.

Results: Two thirds of families were food insecure over the past 12 months and over one quarter were severely food insecure, indicative of food deprivation. 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 a community kitchen, and participation in community gardens was even lower. It was relatively common for families to delay payments of bills or rent and terminate 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.

Key words: Food security; low-income; nutrition; poverty; Canada

La traduction du résumé se trouve à la fin de l'article. Can J Public Health 2009;100(2):135-39.

Mots clés : sécurité alimentaire; faible revenu; nutrition; pauvreté; Canada

Almost 1 in 10 Canadian households experienced food insecurity in 2004.1 In addition to compromising nutrition,2-4 household food insecurity is associated with poorer physical, mental, and social health.5-7 While the existing research suggests that problems of household food insecurity are primarily rooted in inadequate incomes,1,5-8 few policy directions have been proposed to address factors that constrain food purchasing. Instead, responses have generally been community-based initiatives focused on food and food-related behaviours, including food banks, meal and snack programs for children, and community kitchens and gardens. We undertook a study of low-income families residing in highpoverty Toronto neighbourhoods, employing survey methods, mapping of neighbourhood food access, and qualitative interviewing, to gain an understanding of factors that influence household food security. In this paper, we draw upon the survey and mapping data to examine household food security, participation in community food programs, and resource augmentation strategies employed when running out of food or money for food. A comprehensive examination of the relation between housing affordability, housing subsidies, social assistance, and household food insecurity will be published elsewhere.

METHODS

Sample and data collection

Data collection was completed between November 2005 and January 2007 in 12 census tracts randomly chosen from 23 high-poverty tracts in Toronto.9 Families with children and who were tenants were studied because of the association between these household characteristics and food insecurity.1,5,6 Potential respondents residing in rental units in each census tract were approached at the door and screened for inclusion by trained interviewers with personal experience of low income. Tenant families were deemed eligible if their gross household income was at or below the mid-level of Statistics Canada's five-category income adequacy scale. …

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