According to a study conducted by researchers at the Australian National University, a low-income family would have to spend half its weekly wage to eat the healthy diet of the lean meat, fruit and vegetables recommended in official national dietary guidelines.
The study, which was focused on food prices in Sydney’s western suburbs, found that cost is an important and sometimes defining influence on people’s food choices.
“The most disadvantaged households would have to spend up to 48% of their weekly income on a healthy and sustainable diet, while the most advantaged households would spend only 9% of their weekly income,” said Sharon Friel, study author and professor of Health Equity at ANU.
Under the study, a basket survey was used to investigate the cost of both a typical basket of food and a hypothetical healthy and sustainable basket. The price of foods in the two baskets was recorded in five neighbourhoods, and the affordability of the baskets was determined across household income quintiles.
The study found the cost of a week’s worth of healthy and environmentally sustainable of food was 30% more than the average basket in the typical lower socioeconomic neighbourhood.
The study also found that lowest income quintile households would have to spend between 33% and 44% of their weekly income to buy a typical basket.
“Until sustainable options become more affordable and income levels reflect the real cost of living in a sustainable way, people will continue to disregard environmental considerations when making food purchases,” Friel said.
“Climate change has affected the price and availability of food in Australia and other countries. Sustainable food options often cost more than regular foods and that cost difference is a recognised barrier to healthy and sustainable consumption.”
According to Friel, the price of domestic fresh fruit and vegetables increased by more than 30% between 2005 and 2007 due to drought and increased severe weather events in the country and the world at large.
The study comes days after another study found that efforts by successive Australian governments to make more healthy foods available in the country have failed, with few controls on food and beverage manufacturers being enforced.
According to the study, which was executed by researchers from the George Institute of Global Health and the University of Sydney, the federal government's Food and Health Dialogue has been unable to reduce or restrict foods laden with fat, sugar and salt.
The Food and Health Dialogue was launched by the government in mid-2009 to improve the nutritional profile of foods and help educate consumers about their diets.