Food insecurity impacts kids’ emotional well-being as much as their physical health

Since launching in 2015, I Can for Kids (iCAN) has witnessed a dramatic increase in the stress levels among children and families in greatest need. In fact, our desire to improve mental health and enhance resilience is one of the top reasons we chose to pioneer a dignified grocery gift card approach that helps alleviate food insecurity in Calgary. Based on our research and evaluation results, we are certainly reaching this goal. 

Over the past few years, exaggerated levels of global stress, conflict, and uncertainty have taken a major toll on psychological well-being. Unfortunately, escalating food costs and inflation have likely amplified the number of households who cannot afford to buy enough healthy food. To make matters worse, Alberta now has the highest proportion of households who experience severe food insecurity across all ten provinces. 

However, with your generous support, we can boost the confidence of food-insecure kids and families so they can focus on leading a meaningful life rather than worrying about their next meal. 

Although most people equate food insecurity with hunger, few realize that this complex issue actually leads to devastating impacts on multiple facets of children’s mental health. Current research in Canada highlights a strong link between living with childhood food insecurity and facing a magnified risk of:

The impact of these adverse psychological conditions only grows worse as children mature into young adults. Although food-insecure parents try to shield their kids from economic struggles, children are still aware of financial stress. As a result, they try to help lower household anxiety by making sure everyone in the family has access to some of their limited food supplies. 

The results of our 2022 program evaluation also indicate that many of our recipients struggle to maintain good psychological well-being. Our agency partners estimate that:

  • approximately 30% of the households who access our grocery gift card program are raising a child with a mental health issue
  • nearly 40% of the parents who access grocery gift cards struggle with a mental health issue 
  • 1 in 4 of our recipients lives in a household that experiences domestic violence
  • other than a recent job loss, struggling with a mental health issue is the most common reason that parents cannot access enough income to meet their family’s basic needs 

But there is also good news! According to our agency partners, the top psychological benefits of our grocery gift card program are:

  • increased ability to pay all bills
  • reduced emotional distress
  • enhanced sense of personal competence
  • stronger feelings of dignity
  • more trust towards the agency partners 

These mental health outcomes are also reflected in our research where study participants experienced much less financial stress, greater confidence, and decreased anxiety with access to grocery gift cards compared to free food hampers. The most encouraging finding is that our approach bolsters the mental health of everyone living in the same household. In fact, a study in Canada estimates that we could reduce the level of serious mental health issues among adults by 8% to 16% if we eliminated the experience of severe food insecurity through income-based supports.  

Just last month, a mother contacted us to share her immense relief: “It’s a difficult time for our family. Everything is difficult: paying bills, buying food, worrying for my kids’ education and for our health. What you are doing is unforgettable. You put a smile on my kids’ faces. There are no words to describe the way I feel at this time. But my kids’ smiles are worth a million dollars.”

That’s why I Can for Kids aims to double our fundraising success from previous years. The more emotional and nutritional support we can offer to kids in greatest need, the more likely they are to achieve and maintain healthy and meaningful lives.

To join iCAN’s expanding list of donors, sponsors, and champions, check out the different ways you can get involved or donate

To learn more about I Can for Kids and their unique approach to childhood food insecurity, visit

About Donald Barker

Donald has worked as a registered dietitian for more than 25 years. He also has a professional background in communications and has long advocated for populations who face adverse, unjust, or systemic barriers that lead to higher rates of poor social, mental, emotional, and physical health outcomes. Donald currently volunteers as an Advisor with iCAN to support our transition towards evidence-based approaches that help improve the well-being of children in Calgary who live in low-income and food-insecure households. You can learn more about Donald at

About I Can for Kids Foundation

I Can for Kids works closely with multiple agency partners to target and distribute grocery gift cards to food-insecure families who are most in need. The iCAN grocery gift card program is a more dignified and inclusive approach to dealing with food insecurity, allowing families to shop where everyone else shops and to choose foods that are appropriate for their health and cultural needs. Last year, iCAN supported more than 34,000 children across Calgary.

For more information and media inquiries, please contact iCAN Executive Director, Bobbi Turko at

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