Schurman Family Farm provided fresh produce for the study | photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty


Local study looks at link between food insecurity and diabetes

A recently released medical study has looked at the links between food insecurity and diabetes.

Dr Katherine Bell formerly had a medical practice in western PEI and partnered with Dr Shannon Curtis to examine how food, in particular fresh produce, can influence the health of Type 2 diabetics on PEI.

The Diabetes and Food Insecurity project hypothesis posited that “providing free fresh fruits and vegetables to people at risk for food insecurity and living with diabetes will: increase the number of servings of fruit/vegetables eaten by participants (self report) and improve the management of their diabetes (testing with HbA1c-a blood test that is used to monitor diabetic blood sugars).”

The study was a small feasibility study and its budget of $10,000 was funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Land, as the Community Food Security and Agriculture Awareness Program 2018.

Participants were recruited through family practice offices on PEI and were screened with the Poverty Screening tool (a national questionnaire used to evaluate poverty), those who self-identified as being food insecure were invited to participate in the study as well. The study participants had HbA1c testing done at the beginning of the study, and were given access to 12 food boxes over the course of six months. The food boxes were provided by Schurman Family Farm and included organic produce. Along with the food boxes, workshops on food preparation were offered to the participants. The study was done in the summer of 2019.

Out of the 30 original study participants, 24 completed the study. The participants ranged in age from 18 to over 65, with the majority (47 percent) between 45 and 64 years of age.

Although the study was a small one, it explored the costs of healthy foods, poverty, and the link between poor health and income. The team also used data collected from other studies, in particular looking at food insecurity and using data from the National Nutritious Food Basket (NNFB). The NNFB was created by the federal government in 1974 and is used to monitor the cost and affordability of healthy eating by describing the quantity of approximately 60 foods that represent a nutritious diet for individuals in various age and gender groups. Using the NNFB model, researchers can estimate the cost of a nutritious diet. The most recent update to the NNFB was in 2008. Bell and Curtis used a 2016 UPEI study1 to estimate food costs for a typical family of four in PEI.

For example, the estimated cost of a NNFB using 2016 data was $901 monthly. Using that data, should the family of four be on social assistance (a monthly income of $1688), 53 percent of their total income would be required to pay for a NNFB. In 2016, only $569 of the $1688 was allocated to a food allowance, meaning a significant shortfall in the ability to purchase nutritious foods.

It is not a surprise that poverty is a key factor in food insecurity, and in 2014 12 percent of households across Canada were considered food
insecure2 . A 2012 Statistics Canada survey found that 62.2 percent of food insecure households’ main source of income was wages, salaries, or self-employment. Only 16.1 percent of households were on social assistance, and another 12.3 percent were living on seniors income.

The results of Bell and Curtis’ study did show a decrease in the average HbA1c blood test of the diabetics that participated. They concluded that increasing income to individuals and families at risk for food insecurity is most effective way to intervene, allowing for more money to be spent on healthy foods.

1UPEI Food Costing 2016: The Cost of a Healthy Diet in Prince Edward Island: A Comparative Study, Rosana Queiroz, Colleen Walton, Jennifer Taylor 
2Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N. (2016). Household food insecurity in Canada, 2014

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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