About 1.6 million Canadian households faced some level of food insecurity in 2011, according to a new report.

That amounts to nearly one in eight families who have inadequate access to regular, healthy meals because of financial constraints.

Households with children under the age of 18 are more likely to be food insecure, says the study, which does not include data from homeless people.

More than 1.1 million children, or one in six, were living in a home where people reported struggling to put food on the table in 2011.

Nunavut, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick had the highest prevalence of children living in food-insecure households at 57 per cent, 27 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.

A new report by researchers at the University of Toronto shows that almost four million Canadians are struggling to put the food they need on the table because of food insecurity.

“The impact of this situation on children, families, communities, the health care system and our economy cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Valerie Tarasuk, a nutritional sciences professor at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine and principal investigator for PROOF, an international team of researchers committed to the reduction of household food insecurity.

The report was prepared by PROOF, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)-funded research program initiated to identify effective policy interventions to address household food insecurity. The project was led by Dr. Tarasuk, who said the findings should be a wakeup call for government.

“The problem is not under control and more effective responses are urgently needed,” Tarasuk said. “The cost of inaction is simply too high.”

Ted McMeekin, Ontario’s minister for community and social services, is responsible for improving social assistance. At a community consultation in Peterborough on July 3, he made two notable statements:

“If it were up to me, I would raise social assistance rates by a lot more than $100 a month. But it’s not up to me.”

“I have to tell the story in a way that will marshal the resources. And you and I have to tell our story in a better way.”

While I am encouraged that Minister McMeekin recognizes the inadequacy of current social assistance rates and supports a significant increase, why does he not have the power to raise the rates? And why should such a decision depend on the quality of the stories that poor people tell — why is he making it our responsibility to prove that we deserve lives of health and dignity?