Novo Nordisk is collaborating with cross-sector partners at the intersection of diabetes and food insecurity to support healthier options for the most vulnerable populations.

We all sometimes struggle to make the right diet choices, but food insecurity means that many Canadians don’t have the option to choose healthy foods.

Food insecurity refers to uncertain or insufficient food supply in a household due to financial constraints,1 and it’s a growing problem in Canada. In 2004, approximately 9.2 per cent of Canadian households were food insecure, and that number rose to 12 per cent in in 2014 – more than 3.2 million Canadians.2

Food insecurity more than doubles the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study by the University of Toronto.3 Analyzing data from nearly 5,000 Ontarians, the researchers found that food insecurity is a stand-alone risk factor for diabetes, even after controlling for other factors like smoking and obesity. Exacerbating the problem, people with diabetes who are food insecure are more likely to have higher A1C and hyperglycemia.4

Although not all people experiencing food insecurity use a food bank, food banks do provide an important option for those experiencing immediate need.  Novo Nordisk is a proud partner on Cities Changing Diabetes, a global initiative to bring diverse partners together to address social and cultural factors that make people more vulnerable to developing type 2 diabetes.  In Vancouver, Cities Changing Diabetes has been collaborating with the Greater Vancouver Food Bank (GVFB) to help ensure the food they distribute is healthy and nutritious.  Many donors still think of food banks in terms of quantity – but food quality matters too. With a focus on health, we can see how providing unhealthy foods can hurt instead of help people using food banks.  For example, self-reported diabetes is more common among a sample of GVFB members (13 per cent) than the total population in British Columbia (5.7 per cent).5 Yet, traditional food bank donations are often sugary snacks and ultra-processed foods – like cookies and macaroni and cheese – which make it harder for food bank users to prevent or manage diabetes.  Through Cities Changing Diabetes, the GVFB partnered with a local health authority, Vancouver Coastal Health, to explore how food banks can better support the health of their members. To improve food literacy, public health dietitians collaborated with the Food Bank’s staff and in-house dietitian to develop and demonstrate healthy recipes featuring real food bank items, like rutabaga slaw. Healthcare professionals also visited community hubs to provide on-site health counselling.  Greater Vancouver Food Bank has introduced a cutting-edge analysis system to benchmark the nutritional value of the items it distributes – ranking 400 each month, and now covering 8,100 unique items. Their work to provide healthier and more nutritious food is gaining momentum. In 2017, only 59 per cent of foods in their warehouse were scored as healthy and nutritious, but 2018 saw an increase to 67 per cent healthy and nutritious foods – an impressive 8 percentage point increase stemming from improved processes, donor education, and cross-sector dialogue.

This holiday season, consider donating healthy, nutritious items to your local food bank, like these top items requested by the GVFB.

Top most-wanted food bank items

  • Canned black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans
  • Canned fish
  • Canned chicken or turkey
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Hearty stew or chili
  • Natural peanut butter
  • Canned vegetables
  • Canned fruit

Better still, donate money instead of food. Large food banks have strong bulk buying power, and can leverage every $1 donated into more than $3 worth of healthy food.

All of us should have a fair opportunity to make the choices that allow us to live a long, healthy life, regardless of income, education or ethnic background.