High food prices could have long-term negative effects on the health of Canadians

High food prices could have long-term negative effects on the health of Canadians

The recent high inflation in food prices has plagued many Canadian families, especially those on tight budgets. Statistics Canada reported in October that in-store food prices rose at a faster rate than the all-items Consumer Price Index for the 11th consecutive month.

Ontario’s Student Nutrition Program, which feeds 28,000 students in 93 participating schools, has been hit hard by inflation and needs more funding and volunteers. School breakfast that used to cost $1.20 now costs over $2.

A recent study by the non-profit Angus Reid Institute found that nearly 60% of Canadians struggle to provide for their families. When they can afford to buy food, many cannot afford to buy enough or buy the food they want.

They end up skipping meals, eating old and poor quality foods, visiting different grocery stores to find cheaper options, resulting in insufficient nutrition. A Dalhousie University study of 5,000 Canadians found that 23.6% of the population cut back on food purchases and 7.1% skipped meals due to inflation.

Excess food expenditure

Generally speaking, moderate inflation is not bad. The Bank of Canada is targeting an inflation rate of 2%, the midpoint of its range of 1 and 3%. The Bank of Canada influences the rate of inflation by manipulating the interest rate.

However, today’s high inflation is different — the Bank of Canada itself has acknowledged this. In a recent speech, central bank governor Tiff Macklem said, “High inflation makes life harder for Canadians, especially those on low or fixed incomes.”

Food, shelter and transportation make up more than 60% of household expenses. If only food prices were subject to high inflation, households would be able to divert income from housing and transport to cover them. Right now, however, high inflation is spreading across all three areas, meaning Canadians are struggling to feed themselves, keep a roof over their heads and afford transportation.

A pie chart showing how much the average Canadian household spends on expenses, including food, shelter and transportation
According to the Consumer Price Index, food, shelter and transportation account for more than 60% of household expenses.
(Statistics Canada), Author provided

The amount of money that middle-income households spend on transport and food makes them vulnerable. But recent interest rate hikes aren’t helping low-income people either. Canadians spend the largest proportion of their income (nearly a third) keeping a roof over their heads. Recent increases in lending rates have pushed up housing costs.

The Canadian Food Prices Report indicates that Canadians historically spend less than 10% of their income on food. But that has changed: Canadians now spend 16% of their income on food. The report also indicates that the food inflation index has exceeded general inflation over the past 20 years. The price of a typical grocery bill has increased by 70% between 2000 and 2020.

Canadians suffer from health

One of the major side effects of rising food price inflation is its impact on health and nutrition. When the cost of food increases, it limits the availability of nutritious food for low-income people. Ultimately, this can have long-term impacts on human health and put additional strain on Canada’s already overburdened health care system.

According to a study from the University of Toronto, a precarious food supply increases susceptibility to a variety of diseases and health problems, including infectious diseases, poor oral health, injuries and chronic illnesses such as depression. and anxiety, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis and chronic pain. .

Two women pushing shopping carts down the aisle of a grocery store
Historically, Canadians spend less than 10% of their income on food. But due to inflation and the rising cost of living, Canadians now spend 16% of their income on food.

Similarly, a study conducted by researchers from the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies found that nutrition, especially in the postnatal state, is the most important factor affecting human growth. This indicates that shorter adult height in low- and middle-income countries is related to environmental conditions such as nutrition.

We need to pay particular attention to food price inflation, as it can have lasting effects on the physical and mental health of future generations. Our children are our future – we have no room for compromise with their diet and nutrition. The malnourished children of today will give birth to the malnourished nation of tomorrow.

Coordinated effort required

It is essential to sensitize policy makers and governments to this devastating situation so that they can take the necessary measures to combat rising food prices. Governments and policy makers must ensure that Canadians have access to affordable nutritious food.

As a short-term solution, Canadians should consider buying seasonal and frozen foods, growing food themselves, and replacing meats with legumes. To tackle food price inflation from a systemic perspective, policymakers should index social protection amounts to inflation as soon as possible to avoid unpredictable food price increases. for social assistance recipients.

Finally, companies must not take advantage of people’s desperation by raising food prices. Canada’s three largest grocery chains have recently made huge profits. They could use these profits to offset some of the cost of food price inflation. There is no silver bullet to effectively tackle high food price inflation, but it will require a coordinated effort from all sides – governments, businesses and households.

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