In Canada, more than 1 in 10 households live without reliable access to affordable nutritious food. Of these households, nearly 40% include children.
It’s a sad statistic, but this holiday season there’s some good news. Since the Canada Child Benefit was introduced in 2016, families with children are more likely to have the food they need.
Food insecurity, the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraint, is pervasive in high-income countries. The effects range from impaired development in children to higher rates of chronic conditions and increased healthcare use in adults.
It’s a complex issue that societies around the world are struggling to solve. But the Canada Child Benefit, which wasn’t designed to tackle food insecurity, might be a small step in the right direction.
To understand more, researchers at the University of Toronto looked at data from over 41,000 households included in the Canadian Community Health Survey (2015 to 2018). Using a difference-in-difference design, the team compared households who received the benefit to those that did not.
Their findings suggest that, since the benefit was introduced, food security in households with children has improved. Low-income families in particular have benefited from the extra support. In this group, the likelihood of severe food insecurity dropped by a third (12.3% to 8.2%).
“If you give poor families more money, they spend it on basic necessities like food – and the more desperate they are, the more likely they are to do this,” Valerie Tarasuk, a researcher at U of T’s Joannah & Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition and the senior author on the study, told U of T news.
However, despite improvements for the most vulnerable, overall food security rates have remained essentially unchanged.
Erika Brown, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley who designed and conducted the analysis while in Tarasuk’s lab believes re-targeting the benefit could lead to more dramatic improvements.
“There are strong humanitarian, but also fiscal, reasons to think critically about how to alleviate food insecurity,” Brown told U of T news. “Especially in a country with universal health care, where essentially all households must pay for it.”
Work to ensure all Canadians have access to affordable and nutritious food will continue. While we may not have an immediate solution, perhaps those of us lucky enough to be making merry this holiday season can do more to share what we have.