Poverty and food insecurity of older adults living in social housing in Ontario: a cross-sectional study [2020]

Poverty and food insecurity have been linked to poor health and morbidity, especially in older adults. Housing is recognized as a social determinant of health, and very little is known about subjective poverty and food insecurity in the marginalized population of older adults living in subsidized social housing. We sought to understand poverty and food insecurity, as well as the risk factors associated with both outcomes, in older adults living in social housing in Ontario.

This was a cross-sectional study using data collected from the Community Paramedicine at Clinic (CP@clinic) program. A total of 806 adult participants residing in designated seniors’ or mixed family-seniors’ social housing buildings attended CP@clinic within 14 communities across Ontario, Canada.

The proportion of older adults reporting poverty and food insecurity were 14.9 and 5.1%, respectively. Statistically significant risk factors associated with poverty were being a smoker (AOR = 2.38, 95% CI: 1.23–4.62), self-reporting feeling extremely anxious and/or depressed (AOR = 3.39, 95% CI: 1.34–8.62), and being food insecure (AOR = 23.52, 95% CI: 8.75–63.22). Statistically significant risk factors associated with food insecurity were being underweight (AOR = 19.79, 95% CI: 1.91–204.80) and self-reporting experiencing poverty (AOR = 23.87, 95% CI: 8.78–64.90). In those who self-reported being food secure, the dietary habits reported were consistent with a poor diet.

The poverty rate was lower than expected which could be related to the surrounding environment and perceptions around wealth. Food insecurity was approximately twice that of the general population of older adults in Canada, which could be related to inaccessibility and increased barriers to healthy foods. For those who reported being food secure, dietary habits were considered poor. While social housing may function as a financial benefit and reduce perceived poverty, future interventions are needed to improve the quality of diet consumed by this vulnerable population.

Melissa Pirrie, Leila Harrison, Ricardo Angeles, Francine Marzanek, Andrea Ziesmann & Gina Agarwal
BMC Public Health, volume 20, Article number: 1320 (2020)