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

The recent high food price inflation has plagued many Canadian families, especially those with tight budgets. In October, Statistics Canada reported that in-store food prices rose faster than the all-item Consumer Price Index for the 11th month in a row.

The Ontario Student Nutrition Program, which fed 28,000 students in 93 participating schools, has been hit hard by inflation and needs more funding and volunteers. School breakfast, which used to be $1.20, is now over $2.

According to a recent study from the nonprofit Angus Reid Institute, about 60 percent of Canadians have trouble providing food for their families. When they can afford to buy food, many cannot buy enough or get the food they want.

Skipping meals, eating old and poor quality foods, going to different markets to find cheaper options, all cause malnutrition. A study of 5,000 Canadians at Dalhousie University found that 23.6 percent of the population reduced their food intake due to inflation and 7.1 percent skipped meals.

Overspending on food

Generally speaking, moderate inflation is not bad. The Bank of Canada is targeting an inflation rate of two percent, which is the midpoint of the one percent and three percent range. The Bank of Canada influences the rate of inflation by manipulating the interest rate.

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However, current hyperinflation is different – the Bank of Canada has admitted it itself. In a recent speech, central bank governor Tiff Macklem said “high inflation makes life difficult, especially for low- or fixed-income Canadians.”

Food, shelter and transportation account for more than 60 percent of a household’s expenses. If only food prices were subject to high inflation, households could channel their income from housing and transportation to meet it. At present, however, high inflation covers all three areas, meaning Canadians have trouble getting food on the table, providing a roof over their heads, and paying for transportation.

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

The money middle-income households spend on transportation and food makes them vulnerable. But recent interest rate hikes aren’t helping low-income people either. Canadians spend most of their income (about a third) on a roof over their heads. Recent increases in loan interest rates have increased housing costs.

Canada’s Food Price Report shows that historically, Canadians spend less than 10 percent of their income on food. But that has changed – Canadians now spend 16 percent of their income on food. The report also states that the food inflation index has surpassed general inflation in the last 20 years. The price of a typical grocery bill rose 70 percent between 2000 and 2020.

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Canadian health issues

A major side effect of rising food price inflation is its impact on health and nutrition. When the cost of food rises, it restricts the availability of nutritious foods for low-income people. Eventually, this could have long-term effects on human health, putting additional strain on Canada’s already strained healthcare system.

According to research conducted at the University of Toronto, an unsafe food supply increases vulnerability to a variety of diseases and health conditions, including infectious diseases, poor oral health, injuries and chronic conditions such as depression and anxiety, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis and chronic pain. . .

Two women pushing shopping carts in the aisle of a grocery store
Historically, Canadians spend less than 10 percent of their income on food. But due to inflation and the rising cost of living, Canadians now spend 16 percent of their income on food.
CANADA PRESS/Graham Hughes

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

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We must pay special attention to food price inflation, as it has the potential to have long-lasting effects on the physical and mental health of future generations. Our children are our future – we have no room for compromise over their food and nutrition. The malnourished children of today will result in the malnourished nation of tomorrow.

Coordinated effort required

It is crucial to make policymakers and governments aware of this devastating situation so that they can take the necessary steps to combat rising food prices. Governments and policymakers must ensure Canadians have access to affordable, nutritious food.

As a short-term solution, Canadians should consider purchasing seasonal and frozen foods, growing the foods themselves, and replacing meats with legumes. To address food price inflation from a systemic perspective, policy makers should index social welfare amounts to inflation as quickly as possible to avoid unpredictable food price increases for social assistance recipients.

Finally, businesses should not take advantage of people’s desperation by raising food prices. Canada’s three largest grocery chains have been making huge profits lately. They can use these profits to offset some of the cost of food price inflation. There is no magic wand to effectively combat high food price inflation, but it will require a coordinated effort from all parties – governments, businesses and households.


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