School meal programs needed across Canada to address food insecurity: Report

AUGUST 27, 2013

TORONTO – A new report is recommending provincial and territorial governments create a pan-Canadian program to fund school meals for vulnerable children.

The study — released Tuesday by the Conference Board of Canada — addresses food insecurity, which is the lack of access to nutritious and affordable food. Enough For All_HH Food Security in Canada_cfic_Aug 2013

Almost 10 per cent of Canadian households with children faced food insecurity in 2007-08, compared to less than seven per cent for homes without children, said lead author Alison Howard.

“In a country as advanced as Canada, it’s really telling that there are people who go hungry everyday, especially vulnerable populations such as children,” she said.

Howard noted that it’s difficult to get more recent statistics on food insecurity.

“There is an unfortunate lack of research that measures the true extent of the problem on an ongoing basis in Canada,” she said.

A poor diet can hinder a child’s performance at school and have long-lasting effects into adulthood, the report noted.

For children, poor nutrition increases the chances of developing health problems, including anaemia, weight loss, colds and infections, Howard said, adding that children who face food insecurity also miss more days of school.

Poor nutrition can also lead to negative psycho-social outcomes.

“Teenagers especially for example are at risk of suffering depression, social anxiety, suicide,” Howard said.

The report suggested that nutrition programs in every province and territory could help alleviate food insecurity.

It recommended that any fees for participation be based on household income, which is one of the main predicting factors for access to nutritious food.

“National school meal programs are used in each of the other G8 countries as a practical means of reaching food-insecure school-age children directly to offset hunger and insufficient nutrition,” the report stated.

Howard pointed to a U.S. program as an example of a federal school-feeding initiative.

The National School Lunch Program reimburses schools for meals served and gives schools access to cheaper food options.

Some schools are, however, cutting ties with the program. The schools complained that students refused to eat healthier options such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, so cafeterias are losing money.

Howard said the success of a school-feeding program partly depends on educating children on what is nutritious. A program in Canada would need to be monitored closely, she said.

The Conference Board report offered up recommendations to address food insecurity in Canada’s general population as well.

“Within Canada, socio-economic groups which are disproportionately more likely to be food-insecure include lone-parent families, women, children, Aboriginal peoples, recent immigrants, and the elderly,” the report stated.

Howard said factors influencing everyday life must be looked at.

“The low income is connected to the cost of food and to the cost of non-food essentials such as shelter and transportation,” she said, adding that by lowering costs of essential items, families are able to increase “discretionary spending” to buy healthy food.

In July a separate report found that nearly one in eight Canadian households couldn’t access sufficient, safe and nutritious food in 2011, and suggested food insecurity is a growing problem in most of the country.

That report, which included research from the University of Toronto, stated that at a national level the number of people facing food insecurity is rising — 450,000 more Canadians were affected in 2011 compared to 2008.

The report estimated that 3.9 million Canadians were affected by some level of food insecurity in 2011.

Nunavut had especially high rates with 36 per cent of households affected, while the Maritimes, Yukon and the Northwest Territories had more than 15 per cent of households dealing with the issue.

© Copyright 2013

Calgary’s plan includes creating personal support networks around individuals and families


The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, May. 30 2013, 10:03 PM EDT

Ottawa and the provinces have all the money and all the power, but it is cash-strapped municipalities and their partners in the non-profit sector that are tackling the tough issues in health care.

Case in point: the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative.

Earlier this week, Calgary city council, at the urging of dynamic mayor Naheed Nenshi, adopted a resolution that commits it to cut poverty in the city by 50 per cent over the next decade.

The plan is based on recommendations in a report entitled “Enough For All,” which was prepared after a broad public consultation, a joint initiative of the City of Calgary and the United Way.

The cornerstone is a belief in the power of community or, if you prefer, community building – tapping into people’s sense of belonging and neighbourliness.

This echoes the philosophy of John McKnight, guru of the asset-based community movement, which believes, essentially, that a strong society is built by using people’s strengths rather than relying on soulless institutions.

The Calgary plan has a lot of this talk. The rallying cry is: “My neighbour’s strength is my strength.” This is not everyone’s cup of tea; many believe more formal structures and institutions are required to tackle issues like poverty.

But in the current fiscal environment, there is not going to be a massive influx of cash. One of the strengths of the Calgary plan is that it requires very little additional spending; rather, it intends to reorganize, spend smarter.

The emphasis is on prevention, on nipping poverty in the bud. The city plans to use existing resources such as community centres to create “community hubs,” moving municipal services closer to where people live and breaking down silos.

From there, the plan is to create personal support networks around individuals and families who have fallen into poverty. In other words, adapt social programs – whether they are provided by government, not-for-profits or private initiatives – to people’s needs and get those agencies working in concert rather than at cross-purposes.

Finally, a determined effort will be made to talk more openly about poverty in public discourse, to underscore its impact on the whole community.

“Poverty is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted solution,” Mr. Nenshi said.

Some will say poverty is not a health issue and that municipal government should concern itself with practical matters like fixing potholes.

But low income is the single biggest predictor of poor health for individuals, and inequality (the gap between the richest and poorest in a society) is the best single measure of the overall health of a population.

In Canada, inequality is on the rise, and that should be of great concern to politicians and policy-makers.

Poverty is a blight on our cities and our economy, and Ottawa and the provinces have been derelict in their response. So municipalities and non-profits are jumping in.

So too is the Canadian Medical Association, the group representing the country’s 76,000 physicians. It is staging cross-country town hall events about poverty, and the socio-economic determinants of health more generally.

As CMA president Anna Reid likes to note, socioeconomic factors like poverty determine 50 per cent of all health outcomes.

Poverty is a killer. And money is, by far, the best drug we have.

But back to Calgary’s plan to cut poverty by half to create a healthier city.

On the surface, Calgary is an unlikely champion of a social issue like poverty. It is, after all, a prosperous city with a strong economy, the highest average income and lowest unemployment rate in the country.

Yet, even in the midst of such wealth, there is significant inequality and struggle. An estimated 114,000 Calgarians live below the poverty line – one in 10 residents – and many more struggle around the margins, weighed down by high housing and food costs.

Poverty costs us all. A recent report estimated the annual cost of poverty at between $7.1-billion and $9.5-billion in Alberta alone. To get a sense of the national impact, multiply that by 10.

But monetary calculations do not fully capture the damage. Poverty is isolating and soul-destroying. It creates dependence. Poverty robs cities – and Canada more broadly – of the talents and strengths of many, and needlessly so.

As the Calgary report states quite eloquently, our wealthy society has “enough for all” – enough money, enough food, enough work, enough challenges, enough health – but the abundance of resources we have need to be distributed more smartly, more fairly.