Dec 16, 2009

Healthy eating put out of reach for the poor


Remember the Premier’s “Great Golden Goal” (G3?) about healthy eating? True, we don’t  hear so much about it these days. But it was a laudable goal. Eating a healthy diet is important if we are to improve the overall health of the population, and thereby help to slow rising health care costs. And it’s particularly vital for children, as a healthy diet is linked to school concentration, cognitive development, and future life chances and productivity.

That’s why British Columbians should be concerned about a report released earlier this week by the Dieticians of Canada — The Cost of Eating in BC 2009.

Unfortunately, the Dietitian’s report received virtually no media coverage. But it makes a vital point — British Columbians on social assistance and those working for minimum wage cannot afford a healthy diet. For them, meeting the Premier’s great goal is simply out of reach.

Here’s the report in its own words:

Dietitians publish the report to bring attention to the fact that not all British Columbians have enough money to buy healthy food.  While shelter and food costs have risen significantly over the past decade, income assistance rates have remained virtually unchanged and minimum wage, once the highest in the country, has remained at $8.00/hour. For those receiving income assistance or earning minimum wage there simply is not enough money to pay for housing and food, let alone other necessities. Unemployment is up and more people are relying on assistance.  There are too many living in poverty in BC and too many lined up at food banks. Dietitians are calling for the provincial government to take some additional action to address poverty in this province. Other provinces are taking action.  Quebec and Ontario have anti-poverty legislation, while Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and New Brunswick all have poverty reduction plans.  Common to them are significant changes to income assistance and increases to minimum wage.

The report contains important calculations, comparing the cost of basic necessities (including a healthy diet), set against the income provided by welfare or a minimum wage job. For example, a family of four on income assistance would need more than 100% of their income for shelter and food alone, leaving nothing for anything else.

The core finding of this report isn’t just of concern to those families caught in this untenable situation. In truth, we all pay for this policy failure. A poor diet means poor health, and we all pick up the tab for that. That’s why the Dietitians have joined the call for a comprehensive poverty reduction plan for BC

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