Health unit urges help for poor – news – Health unit urges help for poor
October 23, 2008. Nicole Minion

While many families are making the transition to a healthier lifestyle, for some of the area’s poorest families, eating well is just not an option.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit joined health units across the province to conduct a survey of the cost of healthy foods this past spring.

Jane Shrestha, public health nutritionist, said the survey examined the cost of healthy eating and compared it with the average housing rates for Simcoe County.

A family of four on social assistance in Simcoe Muskoka would use between 81 and 91 per cent of its income for food and rent alone, depending on their location. That would leave them less than $20 per person per week for all other costs, including transportation, clothing and other essentials.

A family whose bread winners earn minimum wage is not much better off – 75 per cent of its income would be used for food and housing alone.

“Our findings were essentially that it would be an extreme challenge to be able to afford a healthy diet,” Shrestha said, adding the findings were not out of line with what’s been found in other parts of the province.

“The gap between what people are receiving in income and what they need for rent, a healthy diet and basic costs is so large that things like better food and budgeting skills are not going to make the difference.”

While Shrestha noted those skills are important for people to have, it’s simply not a case of being able to squeeze a little bit more out of the food dollars that the person has already.

“The solutions really lie with social assistance rates that are tied to the actual cost of living and indexed to inflation so they increase along with cost of living … and allow someone working full time to afford a reasonable standard of living,” she said.

“Those are the things that are going to bring the income up for low-income households and what’s required to be able to afford to buy healthy food and a place to live.”

Shrestha said costs such as housing, telephone and transportation are often not very negotiable, which means money put aside for food often gets spent on other items.

“When low-income households are scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of the money they have available, they tend to use dollars set aside for food to purchase other basic necessities.”

Another barrier, she noted, is the cost of healthy foods is increasing at a more rapid rate than the cost of other foods: “It makes it more of a challenge to people on a limited income.”

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