A Comparison of Household Food Security in Canada and the United States
by Mark Nord and Heather Hopwood
Economic Research Report No. (ERR-67) 50 pp, December 2008
Both the United States (U.S.) and Canada have stated objectives
to improve domestic food security, defined as access at all times
to adequate food for an active, healthy life. This study examines
the extent to which the basic food needs of households in the two
countries are met. Using nationally representative surveys from the
U.S. and Canada, the study compared rates of food insecurity in
economic and demographic subgroups of the two populations. The
analysis found that food insecurity was less prevalent in Canada
than in the U.S., and that the difference was not well explained by
differences in income, employment, education, household
composition, or age.
What Is the Issue?
The extent to which the population of a country is food secure
is an indication of its material well-being. Both the U.S. and
Canadian Governments have policies and programs intended to promote
the well-being of families and individuals by ensuring that the
basic needs of the population are adequately met. The effects of
such efforts are diffcult to assess from surveys within a single
country. However, comparisons of the food security of various
demographic subpopulations in the two countries may reflect the
effectiveness of each country's policies. The analyses may also
identify areas for future research by detailing the differences in
food security between the two countries.
What Did the Study Find?
Canadians were less likely to live in food-insecure households
(7.0 percent of the population) than were U.S. residents (12.6
percent). The percentage of the population living in households
with very low food security (characterized by self-assessed
inadequacy of food intake and disrupted eating patterns) was also
lower in Canada (2.4 percent) than in the U.S. (3.6 percent).
To a great extent, the same demographic and economic
characteristics were associated with food insecurity in both
countries. Younger adults, single parents with children, adults
unemployed and looking for work, adults out of the labor force
because of disability, and people in households where no adult had
completed a 2- or 4-year college degree were more likely to live in
food-insecure households. Income level was also strongly associated
with food security in both countries.
Canada had smaller proportions of most subpopulations vulnerable
to food insecurity than the U.S. However, these differences in
population composition and income could account for only about 15
to 20 percent of the overall Canada-U.S. difference in food
insecurity among adults and 20 to 30 percent of the difference
among children. Education and living arrangements were the only
aspects of population composition that contributed substantially to
the national-level difference in food insecurity-Canada had a
higher proportion of college graduates and a lower proportion of
children living with a single parent.
Most of the Canada-U.S. difference in food insecurity was due to
lower rates of food insecurity in certain subgroups, including:
- Households with incomes just above the U.S. poverty line.
- Households lacking a high school graduate.
- All age groups 25 years and older.
- Children in virtually all the surveyed subpopulations that
could be identified in the surveys.
These differences were partially offset by lower rates of food
insecurity in the U.S. for adults in households with incomes near
or below the U.S poverty line and for men living alone and women
living alone (net of associations with income, employment, age, and
The patterns suggest that differences in tax/tax-credit
arrangements and the provision of in-kind benefits (such as food
and nutrition assistance, health care, housing assistance, and
energy assistance) may play important roles. Evidence from this
study is only suggestive, however, and further research is needed
to explore the reasons behind the differences.
How Was the Study Conducted?
Canadian food security data were provided by the nationally
representative Canadian Community Health Survey Cycle 2.2. The 2004
survey included about 35,000 individuals and was conducted as a
joint initiative of Statistics Canada and Health Canada. U.S. food
security data were provided by the 2003, 2004, and 2005 Current
Population Survey Food Security Supplements. The surveys were
conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau with support from the
U.S. Department of Agriculture and included, altogether, about
141,000 households. The Canadian and U.S. surveys used essentially
the same set of questions to assess households' food security,
asking about conditions and behaviors known to characterize
households having difficulty meeting their food needs. Multivariate
logistic regression methods were used to assess the associations of
food security with country of residence and selected economic and
demographic characteristics, while holding other characteristics