Public Health Nutrition

Social, economic, political and environmental determinants

Assessing the relevance of neighbourhood characteristics to the household food security of low-income Toronto families

Sharon I Kirkpatricka1 c1 and Valerie Tarasuka2

a1 Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute, 6130 Executive Boulevard EPN 4005, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

a2 Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada


Objective Although the sociodemographic characteristics of food-insecure households have been well documented, there has been little examination of neighbourhood characteristics in relation to this problem. In the present study we examined the association between household food security and neighbourhood features including geographic food access and perceived neighbourhood social capital.

Design Cross-sectional survey and mapping of discount supermarkets and community food programmes.

Setting Twelve high-poverty neighbourhoods in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Subjects Respondents from 484 low-income families who had children and who lived in rental accommodations.

Results Food insecurity was pervasive, affecting two-thirds of families with about a quarter categorized as severely food insecure, indicative of food deprivation. Food insecurity was associated with household factors including income and income source. However, food security did not appear to be mitigated by proximity to food retail or community food programmes, and high rates of food insecurity were observed in neighbourhoods with good geographic food access. While low perceived neighbourhood social capital was associated with higher odds of food insecurity, this effect did not persist once we accounted for household sociodemographic factors.

Conclusions Our findings raise questions about the extent to which neighbourhood-level interventions to improve factors such as food access or social cohesion can mitigate problems of food insecurity that are rooted in resource constraints. In contrast, the results reinforce the importance of household-level characteristics and highlight the need for interventions to address the financial constraints that underlie problems of food insecurity.

(Received May 11 2009)

(Accepted January 20 2010)

(Online publication March 03 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email