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The cost of healthy eating

Healthy diet for a family of four is now estimated to cost $1,056 per month, says public health dietician

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Half a million British Columbians can't afford a basic healthy diet, but are rising food costs really to blame?

That was the question posed by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) public health dietician Gerry Kasten in a presentation to council on April 16.

In the VCH region, the cost of a healthy diet for a family of four is now estimated at $1,056 per month, "but the point that I'm here to make tonight is that the root cause of food insecurity is not the price of food ... it's poverty," Kasten said.

Food insecurity—defined as "inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints"—affects one in 10 households in the region, Kasten said, and it takes a major toll on our healthcare system.

"Food-insecure adults, they have much higher healthcare costs, (they are) more vulnerable to depression, to heart disease, to diabetes and other chronic conditions compared to those who are living in food-secure households," Kasten said.

For those living on the median wage, it costs about 14 per cent of their income to eat healthy, "compared to someone who is living on income assistance, where eating the same healthy foods would cost them 44 per cent of their income," Kasten said.

"So the issue then is not the cost of food, but rather how do we address food insecurity?"

Things like community gardens and community kitchens, as well as other local food programs, have a "great impact" on health, depression and social connectedness, "but sadly they don't make a difference for households that are living in food insecurity," Kasten said.

"It's an income-based problem and hence needs income-based solutions."

The answer, Kasten said, is to change things like income assistance and minimum wage in an effort to reduce healthcare costs for those living in food insecurity.

"We're spending too much time and energy in the wrong places, and we're not getting to the issue that's the root cause," he said, adding that VCH is asking councils to engage with their political peers on the issue, and advocate for change at the Union of BC Municipalities and with senior levels of government.

"You can be this force for change by framing food insecurity as an income-based problem, and advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to food insecurity," Kasten concluded.

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