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November 16, 2009

Healthy food increasingly out of reach for low income people
Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. David McKeown is calling on the provincial government to ensure that all Ontarians have access to safe, nutritious and culturally acceptable food, as access to nutritious food has become more difficult due to rising fruit and vegetable prices and higher unemployment levels.

Since 1999, public health units in Ontario have been required to annually tally the prices of nutritious foods. A report presented to the City's Board of Health today shows that this year's Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) for a family of four in Toronto costs $146.37 a week ($633.78/month), representing an increase of 7.4 per cent from 2008. The sum of average monthly rent and NFB together add up to $150 more than monthly social assistance for a Toronto family of four, who would still face other expenses such as transportation, household and personal care items, clothing and school supplies.

"We know there is a direct correlation between nutritious food and health, especially in the prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease," Dr. McKeown said. "When the price of healthy food remains out of reach for so many people, we are faced with a serious health threat that is within the power of government to prevent."

Despite the launch of Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy¸ the provincial government has not raised social assistance rates sufficiently to cover the cost of healthy food. Earlier this year, Toronto Public Health joined with community partners to advocate for the provincial government to "Put Food in the Budget" by introducing a $100 Healthy Food Supplement for all adults on social assistance in last spring's budget.

In the report to the Board of Health, Dr. McKeown recommends that the Board call on the provincial government to raise social assistance rates based on the real cost of healthy living, including nutritious food, and indexed annually to inflation. Dr. McKeown added that although Toronto food prices are among the lowest compared to cities around the world, "the lack of commitment on the part of governments to addressing the real causes of hunger - low wages, inadequate social assistance rates, and the high costs of housing, childcare and other fixed essentials - means too many Toronto families continue to be vulnerable."

Toronto is Canada's largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.6 million people. It is the economic engine of Canada and one of the greenest and most creative cities in North America. Toronto has won numerous awards for quality, innovation and efficiency in delivering public services. 2009 marks the 175th anniversary of Toronto's incorporation as a city. Toronto's government is dedicated to prosperity, opportunity and liveability for all its residents.

Media contact:
Susan Sperling,
Toronto Public Health,



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