Why Westies Can't Afford A Healthy Lifestyle

New research into the distribution and affordability of nutritious foods has found that struggling families in Greater Western Sydney are being 'priced out' of healthy eating. Low-income households would need to spend nearly half of their weekly income to buy a grocery basket of healthy and sustainable foods. By contrast, higher income families spend less than 10 per cent of their weekly income on the same produce.

Supermarket picture from Shutterstock

Researchers from the Australian National University, et al, analysed the cost of a healthy and sustainable (H&S) food basket across different socioeconomic neighbourhoods and household income levels in Greater Western Sydney. A basket survey was used to investigate the cost of both a typical basket of food and a hypothetical H&S 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 researchers found that the most disadvantaged groups in the region, both at the neighbourhood and household level, experience the greatest inequality in affordability of the H&S diet:

The cost of the H&S basket was more than the typical basket in all five socioeconomic neighbourhoods, with most disadvantaged neighbourhood spending proportionately more (30%) to buy the H&S basket.   Within household income levels, the greatest inequity was found in the middle income neighbourhood, showing that households in the lowest income quintile would have to spend up to 48% of their weekly income to buy the H&S basket, while households in the highest income quintile would have to spend significantly less of their weekly income (9%).

In other words, the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related health issues in lower social-economic groups could be the result of financial necessity rather than lifestyle choice — the least well off members of society are buying cheap unhealthy food because they can't afford anything else.

"The results highlight the current inequity in food choice in the region and the underlying social issues of cost and affordability of H&S foods," the report concludes.

"It is vital that health and sustainability be incorporated into social dimensions of food choices, making it affordable for food production and consumption."

As our own 'Mastercheap Raw' challenge proved, it is possible to eat relativity well on the cheap — Angus managed to get by on a weekly all-natural food budget of just $25. That said, the majority of his choices were based on taste rather than being healthy and sustainable. With that in mind, we're keen to hear what our health-conscious readers spend on groceries per week. Let us know in the comments section below.

The cost of a healthy and sustainable diet – who can afford it? [Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health]


    according to my last tax submission, I am considered a low income person.

    I spend less than 2.5% of my weekly after tax income on weekly food costs and have been doing so since I first joined the workforce. And no, I am not fat, not super fit, but not fat, probably about average physique. Being a single person, obviously my food costs would be different than say a family of four living on a single income. But the fact is if people learn portion control and plan ahead for their meals, they won't have any issues with eating healthy or staying reasonably slim and healthy.

    Just because something is expensive doesn't necessarily make it healthy. For example, oatmeal is cheap and it's quite healthy.

      But who eats oatmeal without adding a sweetener?

      Because eating oatmeal every meal is so healthy? You might not be suggesting eating nothing but oatmeal but unless you can cover all the food groups and variety under budget it's completely irrelevant to say "oatmeal is cheap and quite healthy."
      Why is it that by and large the people that are telling others a family can easily subsist on x income are single? Or with no kids? Or simply not in even vaguely equal circumstances? That's not rhetorical, I'd like to know, as someone who has lived single and with a partner, I make no presumptions about the kind of unpredictable crap parents go through, let alone the crap other single people run into that is simply out of their control.

      No, the FACT is, you don't know because you're not in their situation, you aren't exhuasted 24/7 from caring for children, you didn't have to pay for those surprise fillings, you didn't have to deal with your kid staying home from camp at the same time your significant other cancelled a work trip so now whatever meals you had planned are out the window despite the groceries being bought for the week. The fact is, life isn't as black and white as so many like to make it out to be, but I guess it's hard to empathize with that fact when everything is about memememe...

        A lot seems to revolve around children that's easy solved. Can't afford them don't have them.

          Often times people could afford them at the time but then one of the partners loses his or her job or gets sick and things start to tighten up quickly.

          Most of Gen Y have never experienced a recession before and will likely be in for a shock in the coming years.

          Last edited 07/02/14 7:05 pm

            Well good for gen-y though I don't actually see the reason for singling them out as they're notspecifically mentioned in the article.

    try being on newstart while studying as a single parent. $300 a week goes in rent then another $50 on utilities (power, gas, water). then another $45 per week per child on after school care and finally $50 a week on public transport to get to university. whatever is left over gets spent on food and good food for the kids but I usually end up eating whatever costs the least.

    Why don't I work, well I chose to stay at home and raise my children til they went to school. I then went back to university so that I would become employable again and until I have that piece of paper I can't get a look in.

      If you are at home, why do you need after school care?

        "I then went back to university so that I would become employable again and until I have that piece of paper I can't get a look in."

          Depends what work your looking for really. But there are plenty of jobs that don't need uni.

      Study online via open uni. That way, you can work during the day, look after the kids when you get home, then just put in an hour of study every day or 2 after the kids are in bed. Plus you can probs still get government assistance.
      I'm not saying you don't have it hard, but you have other options... (assuming what you're studying is available online).

        There's absolutely no difference in the amount of time you should be putting into your studies between open universities and a local, all you're suggesting is that this person spreads themselves thinner.

        Hell I went from working full time for 10 years to trying to go back to casual retail/hospitality to go back to uni, and it took 10 months to finally get something because all my relevant experience was so long ago. I can't imagine how hard it must be for someone with no recent experience at all. Nobody wants to hire someone over the age of 21 for a casual job unless they have current experience.

        Last edited 05/02/14 6:05 pm

      It sounds like you are investing in your future, there are plenty of jobs that you get you more money right now but you are choosing not to do them instead work on getting a better job down the track. I am sure you are doing it tough but you do have more than one option, i was raised by a single mum who studied & worked so please don't consider this comment disrespectful.

        20 years ago the price of having a roof over your head wasn't based around the assumption of a dual income household.

        I agree. There is plenty of people that can work that don't because they don't want to or that jobs bellow them. If you really need the money you'll take any job.

    I make $30,000 a year (before tax) and have 4 kids under 13, one is 11 months old.
    After rent, food is our next biggest expense. We are all fairly slim and healthy, but it definitely costs a *lot* more to eat healthy. When you can get meat pies for less than a buck each, and junky high kj food is constantly discounted and healthy food isn't, it makes it hard for people to make the right choices, especially when they are time-poor as well as financially poor. The marketing at the supermarkets is also heavily tilted towards bad foods.

      That's pretty low - twenty-something hours a week at min wage?

        Also, at $30,000 a year, with kids, you would get every cent back on family tax benefit. I almost do on more income than that.

    Once again a study that tells us nothing we didn't already know (at least in the headline)... Richer people have more disposable income than poor people.. Where's the news?

    Interestingly, the Healthy and Sustainable basket of food costs significantly less in the poor area than the same basket cost in the Rish and Middle income area.. the Middle Income area having the highest cost!
    More interestingly, the "non-Sustainable" but still healthy basket only cost 33% of the average income in the poorest area...

    Moral of the story?
    Shop in the poorest neighborhood!

      Agreed. This is just plain common sense.

      If person A has $10 and person B has $20, and they both buy an apple that costs $1, of course the former will spend proportionally more on the apple, that's just simple maths...

        That's what it was saying, wasn't it? I thought there must be some other sort of trick or logic that I was missing....!

    Let's face it between Coles and Woolies they have the grocery market sown up. I know there are others, but they are either too small to compete or not available in your area. So the big two, charge whatever the F*^k they like and in the mean time force local producers to their knees...! And no... this is not hyperbole...!

    Last edited 05/02/14 3:37 pm

      grocery prices have been deflating in Australia, in fact the accc have investigated it because they where concerned the major 2 were being uncompetitive by doing so.

        That's the point mate... They're undercutting everybody, and forcing our primary producers to the wall...! It won't be long before we import nearly all our groceries, and they won't be the best quality, or cheap...

          i was more responding to the 'charge what ever they like' side of things.

          I certainly wouldn't write aldi off as a strong 3rd with IGA also having a strong share in SA & WA. I was actively involved in the industry for a while and a lot of the practises by middle men were far more damaging than that of the majors.

            Yeah... The big this is, they (the big two) are doing more harm than good... :)

    I have some questions with their methodology. Reading the article the "typical basket" contains zucchini as the vegetable selection, and the "H&S" basket has carrots.

    Correct me if I'm wrong but carrots would be the more typical choice in most Australian households, as well as being generally cheaper than zucchini and more versatile in what you can do with them.

    So why not call the "typical" item "typical"? Seems like shopping / manipulating the result subconsciously.

      Were talking about Western Sydney, there are a hell of a lot of people of Middle Eastern decent living out there.

      The zucchini is valid. :)

    As a Western Australian, the phrase 'Westie' referring to Sydney-dwellers is kinda confusing...

      Westie doesn't necessarily mean someone from the west of Sydney/Melbourne/Auckland metro. Insert your own local term for westie / bogan / bevan / booner / chav.

    I'm in my early twenties and work full time in WA. I can afford to eat pretty well - I don't eat tons of meat, which helps a lot. I'd say I usually spend $10-15 on groceries per meal cooked, which serves me and my boyfriend, and either lunch the next day or we share with our housemates. I do that three-ish times a week and if I make a meat dish that number will shoot up to $20-25.

    Again - affordable (for a non-parent with the ability to work full time,) but that doesn't mean cheap. And I still have to buy lunch several days a week. It adds up.

    As we learned last year when Julia Gillard visited the wild west of Australia - Western Sydney - the rest of us simply don't count.

      I lived in what was her former local electorate and if it wasn't for the sign on her office you wouldn't know she existed.

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