The UK’s poorest households struggle to afford to meet the government’s recommended guidelines on a healthy diet, leaving them more at risk of obesity and heart disease.
With healthy foods three times as expensive as less healthy ones, the 20% least well-off families must spend 40p of every pound of their income in order to achieve an officially nutritious diet, according to the Broken Plate audit, compared with just 8p in the pound for families in the wealthiest 20%.
The Food Foundation thinktank estimates that if the diets of the least well-off do not improve, more than half of the children born in the UK this year will experience obesity as a result of poor diet by the time they are 65.
Existing inequalities in the ability of families to buy sufficient healthy food had been highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic, which had demonstrated a “failing system where the poorest simply cannot afford to feed their families”, the foundation said.
Foundation director Anna Taylor said: “Covid has exposed the devastating consequences of diet-related disease, showing that efforts to shift our food system in favour of healthy eating have been too little, too late. Leaving citizens to swim against the tide of a system which favours unhealthy eating is no longer an option.”
The government recommends people eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, two portions of fish a week, while limiting consumption of meat and processed food high in sugar and salt.
The foundation said, however, that the mean price of fruit and vegetables continues to soar – it cost £9.39 per 1,000 calories in 2019, having risen every year since 2016 – while the price of food and drinks that are high in sugar, salt and/or fat has remained stable at £3.54 per 1,000 calories.
“We need to ensure that people aren’t incentivised to buy less healthy food because it is more affordable,” the report said.
The Broken Plate report comes amid increasing concern over a growing crisis of food poverty and unhealthy eating, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, in which the poorest households struggle to eat regularly and healthily, and reliance on charity food parcels is growing. The Food Standards Agency reported in August that the pandemic had had a catastrophic effect on the nutritional health of the poorest families, with as many as one in 10 forced to use food banks, and millions skipping meals or going hungry.
"healthy foods three times as expensive as less healthy ones" - is that necessarily true? It depends on many factors, such as whether you cook or have your food brought to your door by Deliveroo. My personal experience living on benefits convinces me that it's cheaper to live on a simple and nutritious diet than it is to choose what supermarkets display prominently: highly-processed foods with multiple additives. Why do the supermarkets push them at us more than healthier foods, if not because they are much more profitable and hence poorer value? I suspect it's a myth that tasty and nutritious food is more expensive than junk and this blog shouldn't be passing on a press release from a self-interested campaign group without interrogating its claims.
A brief search told me that the "three times" claim comes from a 2012 study which merely examined calorific values of different foods and compared the price changes over a decade. This is simplistic. From a US general health site: "...even though it does seem like junk food is cheaper than healthy food, on a per calorie basis, this can be a bit misleading.
Indeed, according to a recent USDA study, vegetables, fruits, and other healthy foods can actually be more affordable than junk foods, in terms of making you feel full and satisfying you. For instance, a pack of potato chips is unlikely to satisfy you as much as a serving of black beans, even though the potato chips might be 200-300 calories compared to 100ish calories of black beans. And if you ate 200-300 calories worth of black beans, you’d be considerably more full than from a comparable number of potato chip calories."
And a look at the NHS page https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/healthy-foods-expensive-claim-is-unrealistic/ also shows the limited use of the study on which Broken Plate relies so heavily.
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