How food insecurity could be impacting your workplace

July 5, 2023

For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators 

We’ve all felt the sting of higher grocery prices lately. When shopping, some people may opt to purchase a bag of apples instead of a costly bunch of seedless grapes. But for others, rising food costs may mean making a much harder choice: paying their rent or buying food. They simply can’t afford both.

Almost 1 in 6 Canadians don't have enough to eat

“Food insecurity” means someone has inadequate or unpredictable access to quality food for a variety of reasons, including availability and affordability. And it’s having a huge effect on Canadians. In 2021, 15.9% of Canadian households (almost 1 in 6) struggled to put food on the table..1

In the last 6 months, 98% of Canadian workers reported increased grocery expenses and significant increases in household basics including gas, bill payments, and childcare.2 With dramatically increasing costs across the board, a steady income doesn’t guarantee there will be enough money each month to cover all the costs.

For many Canadians, these financial constraints mean making hard choices in the checkout line. Instead of buying healthy nutritious foods that seem so pricey, we are sometimes opting for lower cost, lower nutrition foods to keep costs down.

Health impacts of food insecurity

Adults who struggle to put enough food on the table are more likely to experience a range of chronic physical health conditions as well as mental health concerns according to PROOF, a program that researches food insecurity in Canada.3

The PROOF research finds that food insecurity makes an especially lasting impression on children’s well-being: a lack of adequate nutrition at an early age has been linked to attention problems in childhood as well as an increased risk for depression and suicidal thoughts in adolescence and early-adulthood.3

Food insecurity contributes to diet-related diseases such as diabetes

The numbers are staggering, but in 2022, 5.7 million Canadians (almost 15% of the population) reported they were living with type 1 or 2 diabetes. That’s up from 1.3 million in 2000 - 2021 – a jaw-dropping 338% increase.4, 5

A focus on nutrition and exercise is typically the first thing physicians recommend to address diabetes or pre-diabetes. A nutritious dietary plan (including fresh produce, whole grains, and lean protein) is often a key part of managing the disease and helping to control blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol.6

But in a rising-cost world where prices seem to jump every month, having the option to access and buy healthier foods to help manage diabetes is getting harder and harder – especially for those food insecure households. This, in turn, increases the risk for poor disease management which could lead to absenteeism, a decreased quality of life, illness, and hospitalization.

6 ways you can help your employees

The high cost of nutritious foods may be impacting your employees – and their health. Here are a few ways you could help:
1. Make healthy foods available at work.

  • Have “grab and go” fresh fruit and vegetables available in your break rooms.
  • If you have a cafeteria, offer nutritious meals at a lower cost than fast food choices.
  • Use grocery store gift cards as rewards for company events, celebrations, and recognition.

2. Add healthy eating tips to your communications.

3. Share healthy recipes that won’t break the bank and remind employees that they can take advantage of grocery store points programs – the points can add up fast and help save on grocery bills.

4. Subsidize fresh food boxes.

  • Work with a local food box supplier to make fresh, seasonal foods available to your team.
  • Destigmatize the use of food assistance programs. Give scheduling flexibility to employees so they can access these supports.

5. Get support from Manulife.

  • Reach out to your Manulife representative for resources that can help you build your well-being strategy.
  • Host health screening clinics at work. These clinics can help employees learn and understand their blood sugar numbers, including A1C testing if desired. This is important because as many as 1.7 million Canadians have Type 2 diabetes and don’t know it yet, and nearly 6 million live with prediabetes.7

6. Review your compensation structure to align with local increases in cost of living. Help employees with their finances by providing access to educational resources, financial advisors, and planning tools.

Another way to make a difference

If your company is interested in helping the broader community, consider supporting an organization such as Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC).

At the heart of Community Food Centres Canada’s work is the belief that food is a basic right. They bring people together around good food to help communities thrive.
With nearly 400 partners across the country, CFCC builds inclusive, culturally responsive Community Food Centres, shares knowledge, creates health-focused programs, and advocates for equitable policy change.

Aligned to Manulife's Impact Agenda, and our commitment to sustained health and well-being, our support of Community Food Centres Canada is focused on:

  1. FoodFit, a program for people living on low incomes who are motivated to make changes to support their health and well-being but face economic barriers to doing so.
  2. Market Greens, a program that supports people living on low incomes to increase their access to fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables to help counter diet-related illness and improve well-being.



1Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA. (2022) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2021. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from

2 Stress, finances, and well-being; driving behaviours that matter | Manulife Retirement, 2023

3What are the implications of food insecurity for health and health care?, 2022. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF)

4Diabetes rates continue to climb in Canada | Diabetes Canada, 2022

5 Diabetes in Canada in review, 2021 | Government of Canada

6Food and Nutrition Insecurity and Diabetes: Understanding the Connection, 2022

7Diabetes by the numbers infographic 2022 | Diabetes Canada

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