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States-of-Mind

Food insecurity and health

In the past few years, we have heard a lot about food insecurity. Sadly, this is a growing problem for many people in the world and even here in Canada.

In 2012, roughly 12 per cent of Canadian households experienced some degree of food insecurity

In particular, communities in the North and indigenous communities have struggled, but there are likely families in every community who deal with food insecurity.

A University of Toronto study examined food insecurity as it relates to health status and found it is tightly linked to poorer health.

I have written many times about socio-economic impacts on mental and physical health.

Poverty and its attendant problems including lack of access to sufficient, nutritious and affordable food are some of the biggest determinants of health.

Food insecurity is intertwined with other poverty issues, but is also an independent predictor of health.

Food insecurity has been linked to poorer health in children including increased rates of asthma and depression. In adults, food insecurity is associated with higher rates of chronic illness and poor health.

For this study, researchers examined data from some 67,000 Ontario adults between the ages of 18 and 64 who had participated in a community health survey in 2005, 2007-08 or 2009-10.

They assessed food security in the year before the survey interview and linked information with health care data to determine direct health care costs during the same period.

Not surprisingly, total health care costs rose in step with the increasing severity of household food insecurity.
When compared against those in food secure households, those with marginal food insecurity had 16 per cent higher health costs.

When food insecurity was moderate, health care costs were 32 per cent higher than food secure households and when food insecurity was severe health care costs were 76 per cent higher. 

This disparity was even greater when costs of prescription drugs covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit Program were included.

Household food insecurity predicted health care use independently of other social determinants of health.

If governments invest in reducing food insecurity, it could go a long way toward improving people’s health and reducing public expense on healthcare.

As with other poverty reducing initiatives, it costs less to deal with root problems than the consequences stemming from them.

In Canada, we have the resources to ensure all our citizens can access basic necessities of a healthy life including food, water, housing and healthcare.

It should be unacceptable to all of us to see families and communities going without.

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About the Author

Paul Latimer has over 25 years experience in clinical practice, research, and administration.

After obtaining his medical degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he did psychiatric training at Queen's, Oxford and Temple Universities. After his residency he did a doctorate in medical science at McMaster University where he was also a Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar.

Since 1983 he has been practicing psychiatry in Kelowna, BC, where he has held many administrative positions and conducted numerous clinical trials.

He has published many scientific papers and one book on the psychophysiology of the functional bowel disorders.

He is an avid photographer, skier and outdoorsman.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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