The Northwestern Health Unit says 1 in 7 families in northwestern Ontario are struggling to put food on the table each day – and the issue is only going to get worse.

According to the results of a Northwestern Health Unit study done in the spring, the NWHU says the average cost to feed a family of four in northwestern Ontario is now $299 per week – or about $1,300 per month.

This comes as grocery prices have continued to rise throughout the year as Canada navigates an economic and inflationary crisis, fueled by the federal government’s $11 billion debt, supply chain disruptions and increasing inflation rates – which hit 6.9 per cent in November.

Prices in grocery stores are up an average of 11 per cent in 2022 compared to 2021, and Canada’s annual Food Price Report predicts that Canadians should be prepared to pay an additional $1,050 in grocery costs in 2023, compared to this year.

In October, the Competition Bureau of Canada announced it would be starting an investigation into the rising cost of groceries, with a final report expected by June 2023. The committee is set to meet on food inflation concerns on December 12.

The NWHU adds that while the cost of groceries is one of the more notable increases this year – the region’s issues run much deeper than just the cost of food.

“The root cause of food insecurity is poverty –too many households are struggling to afford the cost of basic living in northwestern Ontario, especially those on minimum wage and social assistance,” says Zoe Brenner, Registered Dietitian with NWHU.

Brenner explains that when money is tight, nutritious foods are often compromised to pay for other expenses like rent and utilities, which can lead to worsening physical health, increased mental illness, and over time, significant costs onto our healthcare system.

“Many of our neighbours must choose between food on the table or a warm roof over their heads. Which would you choose?” asks Brenner.

Brenner and the NWHU finish by adding that the gap between income and the cost of living needs to be narrowed down in northwestern Ontario, which includes affordable housing and childcare, with improved wages, social assistance programs and employment security to reduce poverty in the area.

And in northwestern Ontario – fly-in communities are forced to pay outlandish prices for food, which leads to higher consumption of heavily-processed foods and high rates of diabetes among First Nation community members.

A 2019 report from the Assembly of First Nations and Indigenous Services Canada showed that rates of obesity and diabetes are higher among First Nation adults compared to the general population. As well, 48 per cent of First Nation households have struggled to put food on the table.