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Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The application of ‘valence’ to the idea of household food insecurity in Canada

Social Science & Medicine Volume 220, January 2019, Pages 176-183 Social Science & Medicine Author links open overlay panelLynnMcIntyreaPatrick B.PattersonaCatherine L.Mahb a Department of Community Health Sciences, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, 3rd Floor, Teaching Research and Wellness Building, 3280 Hospital Drive N.W, Calgary, AB, T2N 4Z6, Canada b School of Health Administration, Faculty of Health, Dalhousie University, 5850 College Street, Tupper Building, 2nd Floor, PO Box 15000, Halifax, NS, B3H 4R2, Canada Received 29 May 2018, Revised 31 October 2018, Accepted 8 November 2018, Available online 10 November 2018. crossmark-logo https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.11.016 Get rights and content Highlights • Household food insecurity in Canada has provoked little policy action. • Valence, defined as the emotional quality of an idea, may be one explanation. • Household food insecurity elicits negative valence and low emotional intensity. • In consequence, household food insecurity is an uncompelling policy problem. Abstract Household food insecurity (HFI), lack of access to adequate food due to financial constraint, has been studied extensively in Canada and is well-recognized for its negative impacts on population health. Despite considerable high-level political recognition, the issue has evoked little substantive policy deliberation. We suggest that Béland and Cox's recently articulated construct of ‘valence’ may be useful in examining why the idea of HFI has motivated little policy response. Valence is defined as the emotional quality of an idea. According to valence theory, ideas with a high emotional intensity, positive valence acquire importance in policy debate, and those with high intensity, negative valence are ‘unthinkable’ as a policy idea. We compiled four datasets in which HFI was discussed (verbatim legislative excerpts, parliamentary committee proceedings, government reports, interviews with HFI policy entrepreneurs), representing different kinds of political forums for debate. We analyzed what was said with respect to the valence of the idea of HFI. We found that discussions about HFI were on the whole generally subdued and of low emotional intensity. High intensity negative valence pronouncements were found among legislators' statements and parliamentary committee evidence. Regardless of emotional intensity level, speakers usually talked about the idea of HFI in ways that elicited a negative valence. Positive valence in discussion of the idea of HFI was limited and invoked comments about individual aspiration, prosperity, and community spirit. Our findings suggest that the negative valence of HFI is an inherent trait of the idea that makes it unattractive to policy makers. We suggest that HFI may be a better metric than a policy problem and that aspirational goals with positive valence related to poverty alleviation might better use HFI as an outcome rather than the focus of action. Previous article in issue Next article in issue Keywords Canada Food insecurity Ideas Policy Politics Population health Valence 1. The application of ‘valence’ to the idea of household food insecurity in Canada Household food insecurity (HFI), lack of access to adequate food due to financial constraint, has been extensively studied and is now well-recognized as a public health problem (Minister of Health, 2014) with consequential health impacts (Aibibula et al., 2018; Galesloot et al., 2012; Gucciardi et al., 2009; McIntyre et al., 2013; Seligman et al., 2010; Tarasuk et al., 2015). There is also widespread recognition among researchers (Riches, 2002; Power et al., 2015; Tarasuk et al., 2014), and among policy actors in Canada (McIntyre et al, 2016c, 2018b) and internationally (FAO, 1996) that HFI is tied to income insufficiency. In turn, numerous studies have documented the prevalence of HFI varying with changes in household-level and macroeconomic circumstances (Ionescu-Ittu et al., 2015; Loopstra and Tarasuk, 2013; Li et al., 2016; McIntyre et al., 2016a). Despite high-level political recognition that the problem of HFI exists (McIntyre et al., 2016c), the issue has yielded few substantive policy changes to reduce the problem in Canada at the federal or provincial levels (McIntyre et al., 2016b), prompting the question – what is missing? We suggest that the recently articulated construct of ‘valence’ may be useful in answering the question of why the idea of HFI evokes little policy traction, and that an examination of valence for other population health policy problems may be similarly helpful in policy analysis. 1.1. Valence Ideas held by policy actors are important in shaping what policy problems are worthy of attention on political agendas (Béland, 2009: 704; Campbell, 2002: 24; Seabrooke and Wigan, 2016: 357). Valence is an approach to theorizing the impact of ideas on policy that has been recently proffered by Daniel Béland and Robert Henry Cox (Béland and Cox, 2016; Cox and Béland, 2013). Béland and Cox adapt the concept of valence from its use in analyzing electoral dynamics and in cognitive psychology, to the analysis of how emotion contributes to the construction of ideas in policy development (Béland and Cox, 2016; Cox and Béland, 2013). They suggest that the notion of valence is useful for describing the emotional quality of an idea, which can be characterized by the intensity of feelings it engenders--high, neutral or low, and whether these feelings are construed as positive, neutral or negative (Béland and Cox, 2016: 432; Cox and Béland, 2013: 308). In Cox and Beland's formulation, valence is measurable and transactional. Cox and Béland (2013) hypothesize that policy actors are most likely to be attracted to policy ideas that have a valence aligned with their mood, and that evoke normative considerations at an abstract level, particularly those involving identity construction. Such ideas are better able to evoke intense emotion and attract, or repel, people involved in the policy process and thus have a stronger influence on policy formation (Cox and Béland, 2013: 309, 316-7). As they explain, an idea with a high positive valence, “sounds so positive that few politicians could explicitly stand against it” (Béland and Cox, 2016: 439), allowing these ideas to acquire importance in policy debates. Aversive ideas to policy makers and to the wider public would by analogy have strong negative valence and be ‘unthinkable’ as acceptable policy solutions (Cox and Béland, 2013: 323). Valence thus encompasses key aspects of how an idea is likely to impact policy formation (Cox and Béland, 2013: 323). “It [valence] could also explain the failure of relevant ideas to gain traction in a policy discussion. An idea that was relevant, from the perspective of offering a reasonable and effective solution to a policy problem, might fail to be embraced because its valence did not match the mood of the decision maker or group” (Cox and Béland, 2013: 313–314). Seabrooke and Wigan (2016: 360) echo the theme of valence and public mood, and also suggest that policy issues need valence, indicated by emotional engagement, to move forward in the policy process. To date, health scholars have not deployed the valence construct of Cox and Béland (2013) in their writings, using the term instead to describe positive versus negative affect (see for example Shamay-Tsoory et al., 2008), as a simple adjective implying negativity, neutrality or positivity (as in valence framing Gesser-Edelsburg et al., 2015), or in the categorization of public attitudes towards topics such as tobacco control (Smith et al., 2008), HPV vaccination (Bigman et al., 2010), chronic disease prevention (McGetrick et al., 2018), and public health perspectives on climate change (Maibach et al., 2010). Unwin et al.'s (2017) policy analysis of non-communicable disease programming in Barbados defined valence as ‘consensus’. Some political scientists have applied the valence construct to examine health-salient topics, such as urban transportation (Towns and Henstra, 2018), and sustainability narratives in health system reform discourse (Bhatia and Orsini, 2016). Thus, our application of valence to healthy public policy is relatively novel. Applying the valence concept to exploring the idea of HFI in public policy arenas could yield valuable insights into the type of policy idea HFI represents, and its policy dynamics. In this paper we examine the valence of the idea of HFI in Canada in four complementary datasets: 1) statements by legislators in parliamentary debates, which were obtained from Hansard records; 2) evidence presented by policy advocates in parliamentary and Senate committees, also obtained from Hansard records; 3) government-commissioned scientific reports; and 4) excerpts from interviews with policy entrepreneurs who work in HFI-related areas. In doing so, we explore how lack of traction of HFI as a policy issue might be related to the valence of the HFI concept. We conclude by examining how this valence analysis of the idea of HFI might be transformed as a tool to inform policy advocacy on poverty reduction and suggest the value of valence examination for other population health policy problems. 2. Methods This paper draws from Campbell (2002: 32) on qualitative analysis of policy documents, debates, and historical sources to reveal how specific policy ideas are considered and later implemented. We used a combined deductive and inductive approach to conventional content analysis (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005) of four datasets drawn from sources representing different political debate fora to capture the valence of the idea of HFI, through comparison and triangulation (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007). It is important to keep in mind that this analysis is not meant to interrogate the validity of HFI which is monitored in Canada since 2004 through the Household Food Security Survey Module within the nationally representative Canadian Community Health Survey (Health Canada, 2015). 2.1. Data sources Canada follows the Westminster parliamentary tradition and, like the United Kingdom, maintains Hansard records – publicly accessible near-verbatim written records of parliamentary sessions and committees (Ward, 1980) – federally and provincially. Two of the sources of data in this analysis are derived from Hansard records. The first dataset consists of statements by legislators (elected members of government), captured in Hansard extracts. These data were drawn from the legislative assembly sessions from 1995 to 2012 of the provinces of British Columbia (BC) and Nova Scotia (NS) (Legislative Assembly of BC, 2014; NS Legislature, 2015). Our original Hansard work was done with four jurisdictions (McIntyre et al., 2016c). These were purposively chosen for their differing approaches to social policy formation around household food insecurity (the Federal government representing national policy debates, Ontario for having the highest absolute number of food insecure households, and BC and NS for having the most divergent approaches, the former more food-based solutions, and the latter more concerned with poverty reduction). After coding of BC and NS extracts (described below), the analysis reached saturation, and thus we moved on to other data set. To obtain extracts relating to HFI, we used each Hansard's local search engine and applied a standardized search protocol based on search terms derived from operationalization of the HFI concept, defined by Anderson (1990: 1576) as occurring when the members of a household have insufficient resources to ensure that they can obtain adequate food through socially acceptable means. High level search terms were food (uncovering household food insecurity, food insecurity, urban food insecurity, food banks), hunger and hungry (uncovering household hunger. hungry families, hungry children). Excerpts needed to be long enough to convey meaning, and mention food or be implicitly related to household food insecurity, such as impacts of social program levels on household spending on food. Exclusions were food safety and agrifood regulation, international food aid, and food insecurity in remote northern regions and on First Nations reserves, where discussion of policy would likely be confounded by ideas and instruments dealing with geographic aspects of food distribution (Inuit Circumpolar Council, 2012). Our search protocol is described fully in (McIntyre et al., 2016c). The second dataset was also derived from Hansard records, and consisted of extracts from statements related to HFI made by policy advocates when they appeared as witnesses before parliamentary committees, primarily federal parliamentary committee proceedings held between 1995 and 2012 (Parliament of Canada, 2015) but also some testimony from NS's parliamentary committees to include a provincial perspective. In addition to extracts from Hansard records, we were interested in examining how HFI was portrayed in scientific reports commissioned by governments to guide policy formation. We included one report from each of BC and NS in 2005, 2007 and 2011 (BC Provincial Health Officer, 2006; Millar et al., 2007; BC Ministry of Health, 2013; NS Alliance for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity, and NS Office of Health Promotion, 2005; Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, NS Family Resource Centres/Projects, and NS Nutrition Council, 2007; Mount Saint Vincent University, 2011). Our last dataset consisted of extracts from standardized open-ended interviews (Patton, 1990: 286) we conducted in 2014 with N = 17 policy entrepreneurs who are active in HFI policy discussions. We initially conducted a social network analysis of policy actors from across the country to identify HFI policy entrepreneurs (McIntyre et al., 2018a), based on Kingdon's (1984) definition of the qualities they possess; specifically, having a voice or claim to be heard, having existing connections or the ability to forge strategic relationships, and tenacity. The 17 policy entrepreneurs identified were located across the country, including NS and BC. They worked in academia, the food charity sector, and in non-governmental civil society organizations (McIntyre et al., 2018a). The vignette interviewing technique we used is described in detail in (McIntyre et al., 2017). Inclusion of these interviews permitted us to compare the extracts from legislative and scientific sources with the ideas of HFI expressed by people who are active in public debate. 2.2. Data analysis Considerable preliminary work was conducted prior to coding of the various data sources for valence. We began with the preparation of a theory synthesis document on valence, which was followed by an operationalization document based on Cox and Béland's (2013) coding dimensions but tailored for this study. We specified that two conditions be met for extract inclusion; the first that the statement express an “emotional quality of an idea [HFI, as operationalized in our search parameters] that can be either positive or negative in its character, or high or low in its intensity.” And second, that the statement “generates the same reaction in people regardless of their political preferences” (Béland and Cox, 2016: 435). This entailed attention to the point of view of the speaker and including only extracts where agreement with the statement would transcend political preference. For legislators, this excluded purely partisan rhetoric, which was infrequent among other data sources. We retained for analysis N = 432 extracts from the data which focused on HFI, inadequate resources within a household to obtain food, and rejected those extracts where speakers focused on other topics and drew on HFI as a tangential concern or additional justification. This is an important caveat because we wished to examine the valence of the idea of HFI separately from topics with which it is often conflated with, such as child welfare or housing policy. Our theory-driven coding and analysis modified the a priori framework of Cox and Béland further. They describe valence as a continuum of emotional impact that an idea has, ranging from highly positive valence through a neutral “zero valence” position to highly negative valence (2013: 317). The neutral centre position presents a logical problem, in that it must be present for a continuum to exist, yet it represents topics that have the “zero valence” of general indifference and by definition do not have the capacity to significantly attract or repel policy actors (Cox and Béland, 2013: 311). Since we are concerned with the capacity of an idea, HFI, to be a catalyst or deterrent to policy actors during policy formation, and Cox and Béland (2013) themselves do not treat neutral valence as important in shaping policy, we confined our coding and analysis to extracts that have emotional intensity, even if weak, and omitted the neutral category. Thus, each extract was coded according to the intensity, high or low, of the emotional response it elicited, as well as coded as either positive or negative, based on whether the idea of HFI conveyed in it attracted or repelled. In the final stage of coding, we inductively open-coded (Benaquisto, 2008) each extract according to the overall theme, or themes, in each statement about HFI in order to determine whether particular aspects of the portrayal of the idea influence its valence. Examples of such themes were inadequate income; risk; security; quantified information; and disgrace/shame. 3. Findings Overall, we found that, with some exceptions noted below, the tones of the discussions were generally subdued and extracts that focused on the idea of HFI had low emotional intensity. We also found that speakers usually talked about the idea of HFI in ways that elicited a negative valence and statements with positive valence were linked with a relatively narrow set of topics. As Table 1 shows, with illustrative examples of valence dichotomies, we found that the absolute proportion of high intensity extracts referring to the idea of HFI differed between datasets. Commissioned scientific reports contained the smallest proportion (2.7%) of high intensity extracts describing HFI; in comparison, high intensity extracts were relatively common in both the legislators’ statements (38.1%) and the parliamentary committee evidence (41.5%) in the Hansard records. Table 1. Comparison of Household Food Insecurity Idea Valence, within and between four Data Sources, with examples. Emotional Quality of the Idea (Valence) High Negative Low Negative High Positive Low Positive They might see the suffering that happens when you don't have a job, and you have hungry children to feed and a mortgage to pay. How much suffering do the people of this province have to go through before the NDP will take any action? (B McKinnon, Lib, BC Hansard, 1998) For a relatively large number of people in this province, food security is an ongoing issue. In fact, BC has a higher rate of food insecurity than most other provinces in the country. At the same time, in comparison with other provinces BC also has a relatively high rate of poverty. These two issues are not unrelated (BC Government Report, 2007) Specific tax relief for those in the lower socio-economic brackets is an investment in their future, and I think that is something that's well spent and would enable them to better afford adequate housing, decrease their dependence on food banks, and give them greater economic stability, which I think would be a greater investment in human capital, a very good investment in human capital. (Federal Finance Committee, Karen Dempsey, VP National Council of Women, 2005) Participatory food costing has proven to be successful in building the individual capacity of those involved to identify the issues they are facing and the policies that are at the root of the problem. Gaining ownership of problems faced and the evidence collected has served to spark actions for addressing food insecurity, most notably by aiming to influence policy at the root of food security/insecurity. (Government of NS Report, 2004) Data Source, within data source n (row and column percent) Valence Intensity of the Idea Feelings Engendered by the Idea High vs low Negative Positive Government-commissioned Scientific Reports, 110 extracts High: 3 (2.7%) 2 (1.8%) 1 (0.9%) Low: 107 (97.3%) 95 (86.4%) 12 (10.9%) Hansard: Committee Evidence, 123 extracts High: 51 (41.5%) 46 (37.4%) 5 (4.1%) Low: 72 (58.5%) 57 (46.3%) 15 (12.2%) Hansard: Legislators' Statements, 84 extracts High: 32 (38.1%) 32 (38.1%) 0 Low: 52 (61.9%) 42 (50.0%) 10 (11.9%) Policy Entrepreneur Interviews, 115 extracts High: 26 (22.6%) 20 (17.4%) 6 (5.2%) Low: 89 (77.4%) 70 (60.9%) 19 (16.5%) Combined Data (432 extracts) High Valence: 112 (25.9%) 100 (23.1%) 12 (02.8%) Low Valence: 320 (74.1%) 264 (61.1%) 56 (13.0%) The relative proportions of negative valence and positive valence in relation to the idea of HFI was more consistent across the four datasets, with at least three-quarters of extracts relaying the idea of HFI with negative valence. The proportion of negative valence extracts in the specific datasets differed within a narrow range, from the highest at 88.2% in the government scientific reports to the lowest at 78.3% in the interviews with policy entrepreneurs. In the following sections, we examine in detail how policy actors used differing levels of valence intensity (high emotional versus low emotional, which we refer to as a high and low respectively) in statements about the idea of HFI. We then explore the negative valence around the HFI concept, and finally examine the topics that portrayed HFI as having positive valence. 3.1. Valence intensity of the idea of HFI The emotional impact of an idea is the central component of the valence concept (Béland and Cox, 2016; Cox and Béland, 2013). In the datasets we analyzed, policy actors often drew on quantified information when they talked about the idea of HFI. The government-commissioned scientific reports, in particular, reported quantifiable health impacts of HFI, rather than discussing subjective experiences or the feeling of suffering associated with it, which appeared to reduce the emotional intensity of those accounts of the issue. Such quantification often occurred when discussing the inadequate income that causes HFI. For example, one of the NS scientific reports stated: The personal allowance rate has increased from $180 to $229 from 2004 to 2011, which is a 27% increase. While modest increases to the shelter and personal allowance amounts have occurred over the last seven years, similar increases have not been made to other allowances available to individuals and families such as the transportation allowance, special diet allowances and childcare allowances. (Mount Saint Vincent University, 2011: 23) Similar non-evocative statements about the idea of HFI often focused on specific policy instruments, including social assistance payments, minimum wage legislation, and tax reductions. In those discussions, the anticipated impacts of the policy instruments were often portrayed authoritatively, as statements of fact, but with low emotional intensity. Other statements that imparted authority to the speakers, but conveyed low valence intensity to the idea of HFI, were found throughout the data sources. When actors referred to specific policy instruments, they typically focused on concrete (versus abstract) discussion of households with inadequate income, and the practical steps to ameliorate this situation. Such proposals were often cautious and based on caveats with respect to achieving outcomes rather than emotional appeals. For example, a BC scientific report cautioned that: Increasing available income to poor families will not invariably lead to better nutrition. Not all British Columbians have the necessary skills, motivation, capacity and personal supports to make appropriate nutritional choices. Consequently, in some cases increased available income may not result in an improved diet. However, although there have been no studies of this issue, it can be assumed that in most cases, particularly among poor families, increased income would be welcomed as an opportunity to improve living conditions for their children, with improved nutrition as a high priority. (Millar et al., 2007: 10). When speakers talked about the idea of HFI in general terms, a common approach was to associate it with health or physical risks to the affected population and with their need for more security. For example, one of the NS scientific reports suggested that: Nova Scotia has some of Canada's highest rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. … We know the costs are great. A 2002 study by GPI Atlantic found that the cost of chronic illness in Nova Scotia was $1.24 billion in direct medical costs and $1.79 billion in lost productivity each year. (P. Williams, Committee on Community Services, NS Hansard, June 7, 2011) Such statements occurred in parliamentary committee evidence in the federal Hansard, in the NS Hansard, and in scientific reports from both NS and BC and often included quantified information, presented as statements of probabilities, which emphasized the speaker's authority while imparting low intensity to the idea of HFI. Other statements where speakers associated the idea of risk with the concept of HFI imparted much higher intensity. In such extracts, speakers associated risk with HFI in more general terms and pointed out danger and consequences stemming from the issue. For example, in a 1996 federal parliamentary committee meeting a witness from the health sector said: Reductions in social service monies in the provinces are literally putting people onto the streets, and when people live on the streets and don't have enough money for food and housing they end up ill. When jobs are eliminated and there isn't this kind of social safety net to provide for assistance, then we see that come to the health care system in the forms of increased family violence, alcohol and chemical substance abuse, and break-ups of families. (K. Connors, President, National Federation of Nurses' Unions, federal Hansard, May 6, 1996) Similar high intensity statements occurred mainly in the parliamentary committee evidence in the federal Hansard and in the BC Hansard, where speakers focused on risks posed by HFI. In addition to being characterized by higher emotional intensity, statements where speakers associated risks with the idea of HFI also often focused on social inequality. For example, in 1997 a civil society witness said: We want a Canada where every person is included, and unless that's your starting point, unless you say we're going to build a budget and we're going to build an economy so every Canadian is included in some way, then all the rest of it is just tinkering with statistics and numbers. It's not statistics. It's not numbers. It's people. It's individuals who don't have enough to eat, who, as I said, live on stale bread and rotten fruit from the food banks. (J. Johannson, Canadian Association of the Non-Employed, Standing Committee of Finance #9, federal Hansard, Oct. 17, 1997) Statements where speakers associated the idea of HFI with abstract concepts such as breaches of basic social principles—for example, health inequalities—imparted high intensity to the topic. Similar extracts occurred in federal parliamentary committee evidence, in the BC and the NS Hansard records, and in some of the interviews we conducted with policy entrepreneurs. 3.2. Negative valence Whether intensity was low or high, the concept of HFI carried a negative valence on the whole, evoking painful emotions. Extracts in which the idea of HFI carried a negative valence equated it with various consequences of having inadequate food. Speakers in the extracts associated a number of types of suffering with the idea of HFI, including physical, mental, behavioural, and social (interpersonal) outcomes: the experience of hunger, physical pain and health problems; stress and mental health problems; social marginalization and isolation; and people being forced to take desperate measures. For example, in a federal parliamentary committee the chairperson of the Canadian Association of the Non-Employed, quoted above, added, “In Winnipeg, a single person getting welfare gets a total of $411 a month for food, clothing and shelter. How is it possible for somebody to live on that? It's not. What you're creating is a whole class of people who aren't eating and are depressed. You've taken the money out of the society, and you've taken away from the people at the bottom. That means everybody suffers” (J. Johannson, federal Hansard, Standing Committee of Finance, meeting #26, Nov. 24, 1999). The types of examples cited in terms of suffering associated with HFI were similar across the data sources, although the scientific reports and the policy entrepreneurs we interviewed made less frequent direct mention of suffering. Equating the idea of HFI with adversely affected subgroups of the population with inadequate resources to obtain food furthered the negative impression. For example, one policy entrepreneur we interviewed said: I think it [a hypothetical school gardening initiative] is also framed in the context that the wider question of food insecurity or maybe, come to think of it, more recently in terms of food poverty is, should primarily be attacked, to be approached through the issue of child hunger because that will resonate with policy makers, or it's presumed to resonate with policy makers, because you're touching issues of family values and moral values and people can't really disagree about that” (Participant 05) In this case, the speaker comments on associating hungry children with the issue of HFI, and across the four data sources children were the affected population most often mentioned (87 out of 432 extracts). Other subgroups that speakers associated with HFI included the working poor (in 59 extracts) and senior citizens (in 10 extracts). Speakers describing all three of those populations in relation to the idea of HFI emphasized that those suffering were not at fault for being in that position and deserved relief. Another aspect of the negativity associated with HFI was a widespread claim that the issue is becoming worse over time. Some assertions of this type consisted of general statements that the situation is worse in a particular jurisdiction, such as the comment by a member of the NS Legislature that, “community leaders continuously remind this government that the number suffering from low income, or no income, is continually growing, in fact, accelerating at an alarming rate” (H. MacDonald, NDP, NS Hansard, 1999). In other statements where speakers linked the idea of HFI with assertions about decline, they identified specific aspects of increased poverty, including reduced income relative to inflation, lower social assistance payment rates, and growing reliance on food charities. For example, in a 2012 federal parliamentary committee the Federal Coordinator of the Canadian Association of Community Health Centres said: We know that an increasing number of Canadians simply do not have the personal and household income and resources required to achieve and maintain health. A widening income gap and the lack of access to adequate and affordable housing across Canada are two key factors. These growing financial pressures and our eroding social safety nets at federal and provincial levels mean that many households simply cannot afford to access the nutritious food, the recreational activity programs, the family supports, and other resources needed to maintain well-being. (S. Wolfe, federal Hansard, Standing Committee of Finance, meeting #79, Oct. 18, 2012) Other statements that linked the idea of HFI with negativity were based on forecasted outcomes--projections that the problem would soon become worse if it remained unaddressed. Speakers referred to macroeconomic forces such as rising food prices, increasing reliance on imported food, or they attributed unsustainable food processing practices to damage to the global environment. Such claims occurred in scientific reports from BC and NS, in NS legislative committee records, and in the interviews with policy entrepreneurs. Underlying many of the assertions that speakers used to convey negative attributes of HFI was the association of HFI with health risk. Speakers in all datasets cited study results which presented HFI in terms of the risk or probability of negative consequences. Of the 86 extracts where quantified information appeared, 81 (94.2%) carried negative messaging around HFI to describe undesirable outcomes. In some cases, specific individual risks were highlighted related to nutrition, or food safety considerations such as people having to eat potentially spoiled or unsafe food. For example, one BC legislator said, “There are people who are hungry in the community, who have to eat and who resort to eating food that I bet you members in this House would not even contemplate that they would put on the dinner table or a lunch table. Yet that is the diet of many of the members in my community on a day-in, day-out basis” (J. Kwan, NDP, BC Hansard, 2008). Similar arguments linking HFI and food safety occurred in two of the NS scientific reports (Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, NS Family Resource Centres/Projects, and the NS Nutrition Council, 2007; Mount Saint Vincent University, 2011) and in the BC Hansard record. Other negative ideas associated with HFI were inequitable distribution of risks, or even broader societal conditions that foster social dysfunction, such as increased criminal activity. While statements about risk of HFI gave it negative valence, which was dampened in intensity when accompanied by quantitative information, the highest negative valence could also be evoked with risk argumentation. The following except illustrates strikingly high negative valence: They [the governing party] haven't addressed the inadequacy of the rates of benefits. (Interruptions) The members on the other side think this is funny. I wonder how funny they will think it is in a year's time when members of their constituency, who they represent, will have even less money to live on when they apply for social assistance than they do now. It will not be funny. There is nothing funny about having to stand in line at a food bank and there is nothing funny about leaving a food bank with no fresh fruit, no fresh vegetables, but canned goods. There is nothing funny about not being able to adequately provide nutritious food in a family. (M. MacDonald, NDP, NS Hansard, 2000) Some speakers in those datasets also imparted moral judgement to the idea of HFI. For example, “Canada is one of the richest countries in the world of all time. It's not like we've gone backwards economically. It's quite a scandal that many of our neighbours can't even put food on the table, that mothers go hungry at the end of the month so their children won't go hungry, and that children themselves suffer.” (G. deGroot-Maggetti, Citizens for Public Justice, Standing Committee of Finance #104, federal Hansard, Nov. 7, 2003). Speakers associated the idea of HFI with failure that policy-makers should be ashamed of, imparting both high intensity and moral judgement that rendered valence negative. In sum, we found that negative valence around the idea of HFI appeared to stem from a series of negative attributes that characterize the issue—human suffering, vulnerable and innocent sub-groups, worsening conditions in a bleak future, and abundant health risks affecting both individuals and society as a whole. However, perhaps dampened by the low emotional intensity of scientific data, the overall valence of the idea of HFI even with a preponderance of negativity was not so high as to be seen as egregious and thus motivate decisive policy action. 3.3. Positive valence Béland and Cox (2016) note that ideas with positive valence are more likely to attract support from policymakers and move forward on to policy agendas; the policy entrepreneurs we interviewed sometimes expressed a similar view. Several policy entrepreneurs suggested that it could be valuable to adapt policy messages related to the idea of HFI in ways that emphasized the positive. For example, Participant 01 said, “we did a spin on it so at the time there was a huge movement across Canada, and I don't think it lasted long, to spin poverty from a prosperity agenda, prosperity, rather than focusing on poverty, poverty, poverty, which was many people didn't want to hear”. Speakers in some of the interviews and Hansard extracts explained measures to deal with HFI in terms of human rights. For example, “this joined-up food policy [to deal with HFI] needs to be informed by the right to food, the human right to adequate food and I think that's a much broader issue than simply looking at the school meal programs … I think if you want a broader scope to this, then you have to develop in, in the context of a national food policy, an approach which I would argue would, should be based on the right to food agenda” (Participant 05). By emphasizing links between the idea of HFI and concepts of prosperity or human rights, which normatively possess positive valence, speakers attempted to make it more attractive to policymakers. Across the data sources we analyzed, people's security, including safety and economic stability, in relation to the idea of HFI was discussed as a desirable state to which society could aspire. By emphasizing the achievability of security, the speakers could bring a positive valence to the HFI issue. For example, in a federal parliamentary committee in 2005 the vice-president of the National Council of Women of Canada said, “specific tax relief for those in the lower socio-economic brackets is an investment in their future, and I think that is something that's well spent and would enable them to better afford adequate housing, decrease their dependence on food banks, and give them greater economic stability, [emphasis added] which I think would be a greater investment in human capital, a very good investment in human capital” (K. Dempsey, federal Hansard, Standing Committee of Finance, meeting #85, October 4, 2005). In these statements linking the idea of HFI with security, the emphasis was on achieving food security through taking action at the community level, or through charitable work. These positive statements typically took the form of expressions of support for school-based meal provision programs, food awareness education, charitable food programs, community gardens and support for farmers’ markets. This line of argument is the positive counterpart of the negative feelings engendered above, when the idea of HFI is linked with other security issues such as food safety threats or criminality. Positive talk linked to overcoming HFI was also expressed in broader, more abstract terms, such as the value of capacity building and empowerment, achieving sustainability, or increasing social justice. In order to link food provision, food education and social justice to the idea of HFI, speakers sometimes drew on the notion that ‘food is a key determinant of health’. For example, in a 2007 scientific report from NS the authors wrote, “we urge Nova Scotian communities – groups and individuals – to continue to act together to raise the profile of food insecurity as a social determinant of health and as a social justice issue” (Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, NS Family Resource Centres/Projects, and the NS Nutrition Council, 2007: 3). Such statements in the scientific reports had low intensity but did link the positive valence of the idea of health with taking action on the issue of HFI. Positive emphasis on achieving food security in discussions of HFI were found in BC and NS scientific reports, the BC Hansard record, federal and NS parliamentary committee evidence, and in the interviews with policy entrepreneurs. Although positive valence associated with taking action on HFI was linked to ideas of health, community action, and social justice, speakers in all of the datasets acknowledged that community-level or charitable initiatives alone would not address the underlying cause of HFI, which is income inadequacy. In discussions about how to address inadequate income, speakers from across our four datasets linked a number of actions with the idea of HFI. These included increasing social support payments, increasing minimum wage, or implementing guaranteed income programs. The proposed measures were often described under the umbrella of ‘poverty reduction’. For example, the authors of A Review of Policy Options for Increasing Food Security and Income Security in BC, pointed out that, “policy changes targeted at raising income levels for low-income families and individuals could help address the problem of food insecurity. None of the family types examined in this report started out with incomes that enabled them to meet the normal costs of daily living. And every one of the seven family types was noticeably better off with the application of suggested policy changes” (Millar et al., 2007: 62). Policy actors drew on the positive impressions that arose from the association between measures to reduce poverty and the idea of HFI, even when the policy actors were normally political opponents; for example, in the NS Hansard record, legislators from the rival Progressive Conservative Party and New Democratic Party each claimed to have achieved poverty reduction success. Examples where speakers linked the positive valence of poverty reduction with the idea of HFI were widespread and occurred in all of the data sources we sampled. Interestingly, positive valence was rarely associated with quantitative information. Of the 86 extracts where quantified information appeared, only 5 used positive valence to exhort for improvements in conditions for people facing HFI. In sum, unlike the many ways speakers could convey HFI with negative valence, we were hard-pressed to find many instances when the idea of HFI was portrayed in a positive way in our dataset. Positive valence, when identified, was associated with positioning the idea of HFI as an aspirational challenge that, if tackled, would reduce poverty, yield security, empower groups, and achieve social justice. The call to action itself rather than the idea of HFI was at the core of positive valence observed in our sample. 4. Discussion In our analysis of government-commissioned scientific reports from BC and NS, Hansard records of BC and NS legislative sessions, Hansard records of federal and NS parliamentary committees, and interviews with policy entrepreneurs, we found that the idea of HFI most often conveys low intensity, negative valence. This negative valence comes through in statements related to the themes of poverty becoming more widespread, food becoming costlier, the struggles of people facing HFI, and HFI as a source of risk. The negative valence idea of HFI was linked with similar themes across the four datasets we examined; what differed was the valence intensity, which was dampened but rendered more authoritative by the addition of quantitative data. Paradoxically, the negative valence intensity of the idea of HFI was also increased by the conveyance of populations ‘at risk’ through scientific information. In health fields, risk communicates the probability of negative outcomes occurring among ‘those at risk’ and ‘those posing a risk’ in relation to the wider population (Lupton, 1993: 428–433; Lupton, 1999: 17–18). Communicating in terms of risk tends to produce highly emotional responses, including anxiety, aversion, guilt and denial (Lupton, 1993: 433). The idea of HFI, with its close association with health and other risks, displays similar characteristics. Legislators, witnesses in parliamentary committees, and policy entrepreneurs cited scientific information about risks but their statements often focused on linking the idea of HFI with the lived experience and suffering of people who are ‘at risk’ as well as general risks to society as a whole. In doing so, speakers imparted the idea of HFI with highly negative, even visceral, valence in such statements. Intensely negative valence related to risk is said to fix public policy attention on a topic such as Cox and Beland's (2013) example of mobilization after a disaster; however, this assumes that the call for immediate action is for a clearly conceived plan of activities. Although, the predominance of negative valence associated with the idea of HFI suggests that the intent of the speaker is to communicate reasons why action should be taken, we did not typically detect an obvious accompanying plan of action in the sources we investigated. Indeed, while the concept of poverty carries a strongly negative valence, it is unclear if proposals to reduce or eliminate poverty are sufficiently clear and precise to mobilize action. The policy entrepreneurs we interviewed recognized the difficulties that the current negativity around the idea of HFI presents for establishing new policies and sought to generate a positive valence. Linking the idea of HFI with food, a sweeping if not ambiguous concept, was one means to convey positive valence. In this context, the idea of ‘security’ can be viewed as the positive valence counterpart to the idea of ‘risk’. Béland and Cox (2016: 432) suggest that ideas with high positive valence and which have enough ambiguity to be acceptable and yet interpreted differently, among people in different constituencies are likely to be helpful in policy advancement. The idea of ‘food security’ meets those criteria. However, arguing for food security in practical terms may simultaneously depart from policy to address HFI because food-based solutions are at the core of food security debates (Tarasuk, 2001) and thus neglect inadequate income as the root cause of HFI. Cox and Béland (2013; 316–317) suggest that greater abstraction allows a policy idea to be more widely attractive, increasing valence intensity. In the case of the idea of HFI in Canada, the way the topic is often presented may be too narrow and in consequence it loses valence. We noted that with the idea of HFI, the intensity of the positive valence was greater in statements that were more aspirational and distant from the particulars of the problem. The most intensely positive valence when speaking about HFI occurred in aspirational statements related to eliminating poverty. Thus, one key to converting the negative valence of poverty reduction when addressing HFI to a positive may be to invoke zero poverty, an aspirational abstract notion, as the goal. A study of critiques surrounding food banks as a food insecurity intervention also found that advocates were proponents of poverty reduction or poverty elimination but rarely both (McIntyre et al., 2016d). Manipulating valence is an important skill for policy entrepreneurs (Cox and Béland, 2013: 309) and others involved in policy processes, and experience allows expert communicators to assess how persuasive an idea is, and whether or not support for it is available (Seabrooke and Wigan, 2016: 360). Cox and Beland (2013) consider how the idea of ‘sustainability’ is a perfect exemplar of valence to motivate policy action. Sustainability has high positive valence because its virtue cannot be denied—no one is against sustainability, and it is a nuanced, progressive term rather than an ideal. First deployed in environmental activism, sustainability is now called upon to motivate policies from health care financing (Birch et al., 2015) to public pensions (Bongaarts, 2004). Is there a sustainability equivalent to the idea of HFI? We think not, because of its inherent negative valence, association with quantified measures not only of HFI itself but its risks, and a need to invoke more utopian rather than undeniably positive valence ideas such as prosperity and zero poverty as solutions. Cox and Beland contend that technical, specialized ideas have a low level of abstraction (2013; 316-31). It may well be that HFI, in light of it being a health-based measure, cannot be otherwise. The irony of this conclusion is that HFI may be a better metric that a policy problem, acknowledging that by actively promoting it as such may further reduce its valence. We found that all data sources we examined relied upon the results of monitoring of HFI in national surveys as an authoritative reference for the problem. Scientific reports conveyed low to neutral negative valence in their statement of the problem, and even political rhetoric was tempered in terms of valence intensity when statistics buttressed arguments. The idea of HFI as a measurement tool used to show a specific outcome of inadequate household income may render it more attractive to policy makers than HFI as a policy issue to be solved. HFI has the advantage that it is prevalent and policy sensitive. HFI as a metric is multi-dimensional, easily measured and easily monitored (Kirkpatrick and Tarasuk, 2008). Thus, HFI may be usefully employed as an outcome indicator for a range of policy actions. Interestingly, Canada and the United States share a common measurement tool for HFI, whereas other countries do not, raising questions for future research on how use of the metric per se in national HFI monitoring might in fact be driving valence of the idea of HFI in some jurisdictions and not others. An examination of the currently low negative valence of the idea of HFI in Canada suggests the need for curtailment of excessive use of numbers, a broadening of the message, and an invocation of more aspirational outcomes. Perhaps the time of HFI as a policy idea has passed and HFI will serve better as a metric of success of policy action on its behalf. In fact, reduction of HFI has been accepted as a key outcome measure of success in Basic Income Guarantee programs (Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services Ontario, 2018; McIntyre et al., 2016a). 5. Conclusions/implications It has long been known that naming problems, let alone generating health evidence for them, is insufficient to motivate policy action. What factors contribute to the transformation of real-world issues into policy problems? Policy scientists have proffered the importance of ideas, in the form of framing (Schon and Rein, 1994), causal stories (Stone, 1989), policy windows (Kingdon, 1984), and other perspectives (e.g., Campbell, 2002), when considering what transforms an issue into a matter of policy concern. Daniel Béland (2009: 705) further points out that ideas can be used transactionally, as ideological “weapons” in political processes, convincing policy actors that action is needed. Valence is a construct that furthers understanding of how ideas are useful in policy formation. The study of valence is valuable to healthy public policy work as it suggests that a focus on a broad policy idea with high positive valence might be a key strategy to motivate policy action. Such is not the case for the idea of HFI in Canada at this time. Indeed, further study is needed on whether valence intensity dampening is general to scientific reporting or is particular to the idea of HFI. Comparisons of valence for HFI-related policy areas such as poverty reduction or child welfare policy would also be informative. Additionally, comparative case studies of policy action driven by high intensity positive valence ideas, specific to health, are needed for comparison with policies that might be motivated by high intensity negative valence ideas. We note parenthetically that a Basic Income Guarantee is a positive, high intensity valence policy idea. 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