According to Food Banks Canada, seniors account for 6.3% of food bank users across the country. However, local food bank statistics in rural Southwestern Ontario indicate that seniors account for 10-20% of clients.
This summer, a research team is working in the region to investigate Food Insecurity and Rural Seniors Living Independently. Professor Al Lauzon and Valencia Gaspard of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph are supervising two local students, Emma Warren from Listowel (a second-year medical student at Trinity College in Dublin) and Valerie Steckle from Zurich (a Master’s of Global Health student at McMaster University) as they work on the research project. The study team is interviewing medical professionals, service providers, home care staff and public health officials to determine the barriers preventing older people from accessing nutritious meals in Huron, Perth, Grey, and Bruce Counties. Valerie and Emma were connected with Dr. Lauzon through Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health, a local not-for-profit organization that aims to improve the health and quality of life of rural residents through research, education and communication. Through this partnership, the students are working locally at Gateway’s office in Goderich.
Food insecurity is defined as a state in which consistent access to adequate food is limited. Food insecurity can be classified into three categories:
One in eight Canadian households are currently food insecure. Research suggests that when people are unable to meet their most basic living needs, such as housing and heating, they make difficult trade-off decisions with more flexible expenses, including food.
When compared to food secure seniors, food insecure seniors are more vulnerable to a wide range of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, and back problems. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with multiple chronic conditions. Additionally, there is a particularly strong relationship between food insecurity and poor mental health (e.g., depression, anxiety, mood disorders and suicidal thoughts).
In Canada, the proportion of older adults is rapidly increasing amidst constant threats to the social safety net. There are current concerns regarding increased costs of living and a lack of government subsidies/pensions to keep up with inflation. In addition to income-based barriers, seniors in rural areas are subject to inadequate public transit and other accessibility barriers that exacerbate issues of food insecurity. Other contributing factors that may make seniors more vulnerable to food insecurity, include; cognitive decline, diminished mobility, low income, poor dental health and social isolation.
To combat the food security challenges facing our community, many programs and services have arisen across the four counties. Some examples of services include; food banks, cooking classes, tax clinics, and assistance filling out applications for government subsidies. Meal delivery services and community cupboards/food shares have also become increasingly popular, especially in towns where grocery stores have been permanently closed or are located on the town borders.
This exploratory study is being conducted to assess the food barriers faced by rural seniors and determine the implications for seniors’ health and wellbeing. This research will ultimately guide clinical practice, service provision and public policy development.
If you are part of an agency that has information relating to this topic, or if you would like to stay informed on the status of the study, email Dr. Al Lauzon at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.gatewayruralhealth.ca.