Valerie Tarasuk is a Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, cross-appointed to the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Her primary research focus is household food insecurity. She has led several tri-council research grants to elucidate the scope, nature, and health implications of this problem in Canada, assess the effectiveness of community responses, and determine how public policies and programs impact food insecurity prevalence and severity. For the past decade, she has led PROOF, an interdisciplinary research program designed to identify effective policy approaches and mobilize knowledge to reduce household food insecurity in Canada.
Household food insecurity, inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints, is a potent social determinant of health in Canada, currently affecting over 15% of the population. Adults in food-insecure households are much more likely than food-secure adults to be diagnosed with a wide variety of chronic conditions, including mental health disorders, infections, and non-communicable diseases. The relationship between food insecurity and health is graded, with adults in more severely food-insecure households more likely to report poorer health status and to be diagnosed with multiple chronic conditions. Moreover, people who are food-insecure are less able to manage therapeutic regimens and therefore more likely to experience negative disease outcomes, to be hospitalized, and to die prematurely. While research examining the interface of food insecurity and diet-related malnutrition in Canada is lacking, everything we know about food insecurity would suggest that it escalates risk. Direct responses to food insecurity in clinical settings typically take the form of patient screening, referrals to food programs and other resources, and the provision of immediate food assistance, but household food insecurity is not resolved through food-based interventions. Evidence-based upstream responses are required, with public policy interventions to address the problems of inadequate, insecure income that underpin household food insecurity in Canada.