Many Islanders still struggle to buy enough healthy food, report says

A new report on food insecurity has found that the percentage of Prince Edward Islanders who struggle to buy enough healthy food only changed slightly over the last two years, sticking around 19,000.

The Proof Food Insecurity Policy Research report for 2017-2018 found that 14 per cent of Islanders were food insecure, down marginally from the 2015-2016 report when it was 14.7 per cent.

That 14 per cent represents 18,900 Islanders.

"The changes are not statistically significant, but when I look at the actual details, some of them are actually moving in the right direction," said report lead investigator Valerie Tarasuk.

The report is based on a set of questions asked as part of Statistics Canada's Canadian Community Health Survey. It measures three levels of insecurity, ranging from having to buy lower quality food to actually going hungry.

Rates among the provinces varied from 11.1 per cent in Quebec to 15.3 per cent in Nova Scotia.

Fewer children food insecure

There was a more significant change in the number of Island children living with food insecurity.

The survey found 19.2 per cent of P.E.I. children live in households that are food insecure. That's down from 22.8 per cent in 2015-16.

However, the rates of food insecurity did remain higher in households with children, compared to the average.

Tarasuk expressed concern that most food insecure households in the province are actually bringing in income from employment.

"We know for sure that people on social assistance are very, very vulnerable," Tarasuk said.

"But it's sickening to see that the old idea if you could just get a job you'd be OK, that's stopped being true in Canada."

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It doesn't take a lot of money to make a difference in food security, said Tarasuk, as little as $100 can have an impact.

But that cuts both ways. She said the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to affect disproportionately the incomes of people who can least afford it.

"They're the kinds of jobs that if they don't show up, they won't get paid," said Tarasuk

"We have to figure out how to support those households through this crisis."

Both the P.E.I. government and Ottawa have announced emergency funds to provide support to people and businesses that are suffering financially due to COVID-19.

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