There has been a 30% increase in food insecurity faced by Canadian kids throughout the country, according to a report by Children First Canada.
In 2022, 1.4 million children under the age of 18 suffered from food insecurity and that number jumped up to 1.8 million this year.
Children First Canada publishes an annual report that evaluates the physical, mental and emotional well-being of children across Canada. The report revealed that in 2023, Canada fell from 48th place to 81st place on the global KidsRight Index, just since last year.
“It’s alarming to see we’ve fallen so far behind. I think many of us grew up at a time where Canada was a world leader for children,” said Sara Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada.
The study found that 29% more children were now dealing with food insecurity based on research from the University of Toronto, the University of Calgary and McGill University. The universities reviewed existing data and spoke with parents and school-age children as well as experts in this field.
Austin believes that Canada’s lack of a school-food program is a factor in food insecurity, noting that Canada is the only G7 country without one.
“When we think about what it’s like for a kid to go to school hungry,” Austin said, “what does that mean for their ability to learn? They’re not paying attention, they’re more likely to be misbehaving, they’re more likely to experience discipline and possibly be removed from the classroom for things that are preventable.”
Statistics Canada’s Canadian Income Survey recently found that one in four children were living in homes without adequate access to food as a result of recent financial stresses, exacerbated by inflation and the high cost of living.
The report compiled a list of 10 threats related to the issue and cited unintentional and preventable injuries as the top threat as it’s the leading cause of death for children aged one to 14.
Hospitalizations are highest amongst children and youth who are Indigenous, making up 3.3% of the pediatric population and 30% of the fatalities.
Other leading threats to food insecurity were violence, poverty, limited physical activity and poor mental health. Over half of children aged 12 to 18 dealt with depression during the pandemic.
Austin said that while the pandemic certainly had a negative impact on children, it’s not the sole cause of the problem, saying that the government needs to dedicate a budget to the wellbeing of children and that not having an appointed figure to represent them, is the bulk of the problem.
“…We’ve seen in many countries that have appointed ombuds-people or commissioners for children that it can make a measurable difference,” said Austin.
“When somebody is accountable, leading the charge, and given the task of working with the federal/provincial government as partners and with children themselves, we see very quick changes.”
Children First Canada has already proposed establishing a federal commissioner and called for developing a National Strategy for Children and Youth. Canada hasn’t had one in place since 2004.
“Our country cannot prosper if our children are languishing,” said Austin, “so we really hope our government – federally and provincially – will take this seriously and take action.”