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]