NORTH BAY -- The Nippissing Parry Sound District Health Unit claims one in seven families faces food insecurity and officials say this issue can cause serious health implications.

Food insecurity is defined as a household that does not have enough money to buy food. It can range from the anxiety about running out of food, to skipping meals to buying cheaper, less healthy options.

"We're trying to raise awareness in the North Bay Parry Sound District about the magnitude of the problem," said Erin Reyce, a public health dietician.

The health unit says poverty is the root of food insecurity, and the District of Nippissing Social Services Administration Board says food insecurity is linked to low household income and the high cost of living. It's a problem the administration board is trying to tackle.

"I don't think that's really possible based on this particular economy," said Mark King. "I don't think it's happening. One of the things that is a priority at this particular point for DNSSAB is geared to income housing."

The health unit says only a quarter of households experiencing food insecurity use food charity programs like food banks.

"We know that food insecure households are at a greater risk for developing chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and there's also the mental health consequences of anxiety and depression," said Reyce.

The health unit says roughly 60 per cent of food insecure households have income from employment, but due to low wages, part time hours, and lack of benefits, having a job doesn't always provide enough money for the cost of living, including food. About 64 per cent of people receiving social assistance rates are food insecure, and are much more likely to live with severe food insecurity. 

"What we really want to see is government income solutions to this problem. We know that increasing incomes will reduce food insecurity on a population level," said Reyce. "We need higher social assistance rates, higher minimum wage rates, and other income measures that will reduce food insecurity in Ontario."

 According to health unit statistics, healthier food options for a family of four in our area cost almost a $1,000 a month in 2019.