People are struggling to eat healthy diets because common processed foods like cakes and biscuits are getting cheaper while fruit and vegetable prices are going up, says Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an independent British think tank that focuses on humanitarian issues.
ODI has just released a report on “the rising cost of a healthy diet”, in which it compares retail food prices dating back as far as 30 years, finding that the trend in newly developed countries is becoming similar to what has been seen over years in Western nations.
Fruit and veg prices rocketing, processed foods tanking
In the UK, for example, the price of an ice cream halved between 1980 to 2012, while the price of fresh green vegetables tripled over the same period.
In the nations surveyed, which included Mexico and Brazil alongside China and Korea, vegetables have risen in price by up to 91% between 1990 and 2012, a hike that was higher than in other any other food group. Meanwhile, some processed foods, like ready meals, are cheaper by up to 20%.
In China, green vegetables have become twice as expensive over the last 20 years, while in Korea, the price of cabbage – a common ingredient of traditional dishes such as kimchi – has risen by 60%.
Researchers say the rising cost of fruit and vegetables may be due in part to new technology and techniques that are used to cultivate higher quality produce that is cut, trimmed, bagged and washed, and available all year round.
Advances in food manufacturing and the falling cost of transport and logistics could explain the drop in prices of some processed foods, such as noodles, ice cream, crisps and biscuits.
More widespread fat taxes and healthy subsidies needed
Across the world, an increasing share of the population is overweight and obese, with the rate of increase particularly pronounced in developing countries. No nation, however, has stemmed the tide of people who are overweight and obese.
“In January 2014, in an attempt to curb obesity, Mexico introduced taxes on sugary drinks and energy-dense food. Everyone is watching to see what effects these taxes have, as policy-makers in rich and poor countries struggle to respond to the looming health epidemic caused by changing diets,” said said ODI researcher and co-author of the report Steve Wiggins.
In the report, Wiggins recommends the introduction of Mexico-style taxes and in emerging economies governments, and subsidies to offset price changes.
He said: “Research in the UK in 2009 predicted that imposing a VAT-style 17.5% tax on less healthy food and using the proceeds to subsidise fruit and vegetables would save between 3,600 and 6,400 premature deaths a year from diet-related disease.
“Even the lower estimate is more than twice as many as the amount of people who die on the roads in the UK, and a huge effort is put into road safety.”