Our analysis of population-representative data from 2005–2014 reveals that being racialized as Black is a potent predictor of household food insecurity. Even after adjusting for other socio-demographic characteristics, Black-respondent households experienced almost double the odds of food insecurity of white-respondent households – an association as strong in magnitude as other commonly reported predictors of vulnerability, such as female lone-parenthood. Our findings demonstrate that the differential in household food insecurity between Black and white households exists on a national level, which is consistent with observations in two smaller Canadian studies (46, 47). Our predicted probabilities showed that characteristics traditionally denoting vulnerability to household food insecurity among the general population, which is predominantly white, do not shape Black vulnerability in the same way. Not only did all Black sub-groups present with higher probabilities of food insecurity compared to their White counterparts, but there was relative homogeneity of risk among Black sub-groups for immigration status, household composition, and province. Thus, being racialized as Black was a dominant predictor of elevated risk of household food insecurity.
The observed protective effect of immigration – in this case for white households – is consistent with other studies (27). By contrast, research on immigrants for other health outcomes finds that immigrant groups with a longer duration of residency in Canada exhibit worse cardiovascular risk factor profiles than recent immigrants, as part of the “healthy immigrant effect” (48). In this study, we find that traditional understandings of the “healthy immigrant effect” in the broader immigrant and white population do not sufficiently explain risk of household food insecurity for the Black population. Black people, whether they have been in the country for 5 years or 50 years, experience a similar level of vulnerability to household food insecurity. Further, while living in Quebec was protective for white households, Black households in Quebec had the same probability of food insecurity as Black households in Ontario. That living in Quebec affords no discernible protection for the Black population suggests that race is uniquely shaping the vulnerability of this group.
Social epidemiologists and public health scholars have long argued that racial differences in economic outcomes are manifestations of structural racism, and are powerful in shaping racial disparities in health (49–51). Scholars in the US have also established a potential relationship between racial discrimination and an elevated risk of food insecurity (22–25). In their study of African-American food-insecure households with children, Burke et al. (2018) found that even after adjusting for socio-demographic factors, a one-unit increase in the frequency of lifetime racial discrimination was associated with a 5% increase in the odds of very low food insecurity (22). Odoms-Young and Bruce argue that in order to address racial disparities in food insecurity, interventions should target structural racism as well as class inequality (52). Given the potent role of race in our study, one prominent mechanism through which anti-Black racism may be manifesting is wealth inequity – specifically the accumulation of wealth among white households and the disenfranchisement of Black households. Numerous studies in Canada have noted the widening economic gap between racialized groups and white counterparts, as well as the particular economic disparities facing Black people in Canada (53–55). In addition to adjusting for income, our models included two markers of economic security: main source of household income and housing tenure. One reason for why the predicted probability of food insecurity among Black households reliant on seniors’ income was on par with white working households could be that Black seniors acquired fewer material assets during their working age – possibly due to being streamlined into more precarious, low-wage work (56–58) – compared to white counterparts, and that economic disadvantage followed them to old age. Similarly with housing tenure, Black homeowners may have similar vulnerability as white renters because homeownership may manifest differently for Black households (e.g., they may have homes worth less potentially due to racism in the housing market, or have houses with higher mortgage debt (18). While assets and debt differentials could not be examined with the data available in the CCHS, studies have shown that racialized neighborhoods, particularly in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, are overrepresented in experiencing household indebtedness (59, 60). Scholars have long noted how racism operates at individual and structural levels, such that the metaphorical ‘tip’ of the iceberg represents interpersonal acts of racism, but beneath the water’s surface there are structural modes of racism that manifest through socio-economic systems (61–63). Structural racism may explain the racial differences in our findings, which show that Black sub-groups that would in theory be protected from household food insecurity given their greater income security or material wealth (e.g., seniors’ income, homeowners) are instead as vulnerable as the more disadvantaged white subgroup. Notably, we still see that Black homeowners fare better than Black renters, suggesting that material circumstances continue to shape disadvantage within racial groups.
Strengths of our study include the large, population-representative sample, inclusion of a broad array of sociodemographic characteristics, use of a well-validated scale to assess household food insecurity, and multivariable models that examine both statistical interactions and severity of food insecurity. Several limitations remain in this study. First, our dataset from 2005–2014 reflects a dated sample. While the national prevalence of food insecurity has remained very stable over time (2), it’s possible that studies of race with more recent cycles of the CCHS may yield different results. Secondly, given the cross-sectional nature of the data, we cannot make inferences or gauge temporal relationships. Third, as with most studies on marginalized populations, the sample size for Black households was very small, which limits the precision of the estimates for this group and the possible analytic approaches. A small sample size therefore required a relatively creative and unconventional analytical approach. Finally, we were limited by the lack of breadth and specificity of variables offered by the CCHS. The CCHS contains no data on the stability of household income, sub-types of immigrants (e.g., refugees), the nature of employment of all household members, and wealth (i.e. assets, mortgages, other household debts). Our data source also did not provide any direct measure of participants’ exposure to and experiences of racial discrimination, particularly that which might manifest among the sociodemographic predictors we include in our models (e.g., main household income, housing tenure, etc.). In particular, given the disproportionately high probability of food insecurity among households reliant on Employment Insurance and workers’ compensation, as well as the differential labour market experiences of Black and white populations, data on employment and economic indicators would be valuable for future studies.