A customer shops at a meat counter in a grocery store in Montreal, on Thursday, April 30, 2020. A new report from Statistics Canada suggests Canadians who dealt with food insecurity at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to perceive their mental health as poor and report anxiety symptoms than those who did not. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Food insecurity during COVID-19 pandemic linked to poor mental health: StatCan

‘Food insecurity in itself can be a stressful experience’

Canadians who worried about having enough food during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic this spring were more likely to perceive their mental health as poor and report anxiety symptoms than those who did not, Statistics Canada said in a new report Wednesday.

“Food insecurity in itself can be a stressful experience, so associated with that can be feelings of frustration or powerlessness or even shame, and those kinds of feelings could trigger existing psychological problems or amplify existing ones or trigger new ones,” said Heather Gilmour, an analyst with Statistics Canada and co-author of the report.

The report said 14.6 per cent of respondents to a survey conducted in May reported experiencing food insecurity within the previous 30 days.

One in five Canadians who took part in the survey also perceived their mental health as fair or poor, or reported moderate or severe anxiety symptoms.

“It wouldn’t be unusual to expect that someone experiencing food insecurity could have so much anxiety that would maybe be considered a response, a normal response, under the circumstances,” Gilmour said.

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“We also thought that perhaps these feelings might be compounded by the COVID context because of social isolation or concerns about health risks or financial insecurity.”

The agency found that the prevalence of fair or poor mental health and moderate or severe symptoms of anxiety was much higher for those dealing with inadequate access to food.

“We did find that, yes, food insecurity was associated with higher odds or higher risk of having either anxiety symptoms or poor self-recorded mental health,” she said. “That seemed to increase, that risk increased, the greater the food insecurity that people experienced.”

The report says those experiencing some level of food insecurity were more likely to be male, younger and single, or more likely to live in a larger household or a home with children, and to be unemployed or to have experienced a financial impact from COVID-19.

“We also controlled for other factors in our study so there were associated demographic factors as well as whether people had employment or whether they perceived a financial risk because of COVID,” she said.

“Even above and beyond those circumstances, we’re finding the food and security was still associated with poor mental-health outcomes”

Statistics Canada said this study is the first to examine the association between household food insecurity and self-perceived mental health and anxiety symptoms among Canadians during the pandemic.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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