Cost Of Poverty Translates Into Health Care Costs

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Fighting poverty is the best medicine money can buy for about 14,000 Lambton County residents.

The Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa) and the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction is supporting this philosophy with a province-wide campaign, urging the government to put food in the budget.

Locally, nearly 11% of Lambton’s 128,000 residents experience poverty, of which 77% are families with children. Recent economic problems have increased the numbers, and further impact a family’s ability to afford basic healthy food.

“Data from the Nutritious Food Basket, which measures the cost of healthy eating, shows that the cost of food for Lambton’s residents has increased by 25.6% since 2000,” says Dr. Chris Greensmith, (A) Medical Officer of Health for Lambton County. “When people are forced to choose between paying rent and buying food, the increase makes food unaffordable and inaccessible. Ultimately, the lack of food and poor nutrition leads to a higher risk of chronic disease, depression, diabetes and other health conditions that put people at a greater disadvantage.”

According to the report, Cost of Poverty: An Analysis of the Economic Cost of Poverty Ontario (2008) compiled by the Ontario Association of Food Banks, for each dollar a low-income household lacks, Ontario pays an additional 50 cents toward the health care system, for crime, for social assistance, and for the loss of tax revenue that accompanies low earnings.

Some programs are in place in Lambton County to address some food access barriers that families face including:

o Good Food Box enables residents to buy a box full of fruits and vegetables lower than the cost in retail stores.

o Student Nutrition Programs provide healthy snacks and meals to students in schools regardless of income.


o Cooking on a Shoestring teaches how to cook economically and with limited funds.

“There are many reasons that people become trapped in poverty, therefore communities need many strategies to effectively deal with poverty,” says Gayle Montgomery, Circles Coordinator for the County of Lambton. “There needs to be a stronger investment and commitment to help people break the cycle of poverty, which can span over many generations.”

County Council unanimously approved three years of funding for the implementation of Circles, a hands on community action plan. Circles are a supportive, intentional, reciprocal, befriending relationship comprised of a Circle Leader, a family working to get out of poverty, and two to four community Allies, middle class people who are willing to befriend the family and support their way out of poverty.

The Circles Campaign promotes the vision to end poverty in the County of Lambton by:

• Building intentional relationships across class and race lines

• Identifying barriers that keep people in poverty

• Implementing innovative solutions

• Creating effective partnerships to help families

• Changing the goals of the system to support families and economic change