24 July 2007

Food insecurity in Canada: almost one in ten

Health librarians need to be aware of this sobering report from the Canadian Community Health Survey:

Canadian Community Health Survey, Cycle 2.2, Nutrition (2004)–Income-Related Household Food Security in Canada

It is recognized that “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” (Food and Agriculture Organization 1996). This report reflects the characteristics of food security captured in the CCHS 2.2–specifically, the financial ability of households to access adequate food, which is strongly related to household income.

Key Findings

  • Although most Canadian households had consistent access to food in 2004, more than 1.1 million households (9.2%) were food insecure at some point in the previous year as a result of financial challenges they faced in accessing adequate food. In these households, at least one adult or child member experienced multiple conditions characteristic of food insecurity.
  • Overall, 2.7 million Canadians, or 8.8% of the population, lived in food insecure households in 2004.
  • Across the country, rates of household food insecurity ranged from 8.1% in Saskatchewan to 14.6% in Nova Scotia.
  • Among households with children, 5.2% experienced food insecurity at the child level-that is, at least one child in each of these households experienced food insecurity in the previous year. More than 700,000 children lived in households in which either adults or children experienced food insecurity at some time in 2004, including 366,200 who lived in households in which one or more of the children were food insecure.
  • Food insecurity was generally more prevalent among adults (9.0%) than among children (5.2%) in the household-especially when the experience of food insecurity is severe (adults 2.9%, children 0.4%)
  • The prevalence of food insecurity was higher among households with certain characteristics, including:
    • those with incomes in the lowest (48.3%) and lower middle (29.1%) categories of household income adequacy, compared with those in the middle (13.6%), upper middle (5.2%) and highest (1.3%) categories of household income adequacy,
    • those relying on social assistance (59.7%) or workers’ compensation / employment insurance (29.0%) as their main source of household income, compared with those with salary / wages (7.3%) and those with pensions / seniors’ benefits (4.9%) as their main source of income,
    • off-reserve Aboriginal households (33.3%), compared with non-Aboriginal households (8.8%),
    • those who do not own their dwelling (20.5%), compared with those who do own their dwelling (3.9%), and
    • those with children (10.4%), compared with those without children (8.6%).
  • Among households with children, the prevalence of food insecurity was higher among:
    • those led by a lone parent (22.5%), especially a female lone parent (24.9%), compared with households led by a couple (7.6%),
    • those with three or more children (15.0%), compared with those with one or two children (9.6%), and
    • those with at least one child under the age of 6 years (13.0%), compared with those without a child under 6 years of age (8.8%).
    • Among households without children, the prevalence of food insecurity was higheramong unattached individuals (13.7%), compared with couple households (3.5%).


For the first time in Canada, data are available from a sophisticated multiple-indicator survey tool that enables a more confident estimate of the prevalence of household food insecurity. Although most Canadian households had consistent access to food in 2004, the findings of this analysis confirm what other studies have reported-that food insecurity is a reality for many socio-demographically vulnerable Canadian households.

A PDF version of the full report is available.