Food prices ‘drive’ obesity epidemic

By Laurence Gibbons contact

- Last updated on GMT

The report claimed people and veg prices are getting larger and processed food costs are getting smaller
The report claimed people and veg prices are getting larger and processed food costs are getting smaller

Related tags: Nutrition

The price of vegetables has risen by a whopping 199% in the past 30 years in the UK while the cost of an ice cream has fallen by 50%, driving the UK’s obesity epidemic, a new report has claimed.

On a global scale, the cost of some processed foods has dropped by up to 20% against a rise in vegetable prices of 91% in Brazil, China, Korea and Mexico, according to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

The number of obesity and overweight people in the UK increased from 39% in 1980 to 64% in 2008, it claimed.

Those suffering from weight-related issues cost the National Health Service £5.1bn in 2006/07, more than alcohol or smoking.

The report – ‘The rising cost of a healthy diet’​ – compared retail food prices dating back as far as 30 years and found similar trends in the UK, US, Brazil, China, Mexico and Korea.

Governments in emerging economies should consider introducing taxes and subsidies to offset these price changes, ODI researcher and co-author of the report Steve Wiggins said.

Premature deaths
“Research in the UK in 2009 predicted that imposing a 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,”​ he claimed.
“Even the lower estimate (3,600) is more than twice as many as the amount of people that die on the roads in the UK and a huge effort is put into road safety.”  

Obesity around the world


  • 68% of males are overweight
  • 61% of females are overweight
  • 9% of children are overweight when they begin school
  • 19% of children are overweight when they enter year six

Statistics for 2008


  • The overweight and obese cost the US $113.9bn in 2008
  • Healthy diets cost more than less healthy ones

Advances in food manufacturing and falling costs of transport and logistics could explain the drop in prices of some processed foods such as noodles, ice cream, crisps and cookies, he added.

Cutting-edge technologies that resulted in higher quality vegetables such as produce that is cut, trimmed, bagged and washed, and available all year round could be the reason for the price hikes, he said. 
For a video interview with Wiggins, conducted by the ODI, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

People in newly-rich countries struggled to eat a healthy diet because some common processed foods like cakes and biscuits had become cheaper, the report also found.

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.

Health is about more than fruit and veg

However, the British Nutrition Foundation said healthy diets did not begin and end with fruit and vegetables, but should be based around starchy foods and include moderate amounts of milk and dairy foods and non-dairy sources of protein like meat, fish, eggs or beans.

The BNF’s senior nutrition scientist, Bridget Benelam, told changes in food prices were hard to study and the report relied on relatively few studies in the UK and emerging economies.

“These studies identified that the ‘healthy diets’ – which were defined in various ways –  tended to cost more than the ‘unhealthy’ diets but the methodologies used and time periods covered varied, making them difficult to compare,”​ she said.

“Fruit and vegetables are a very varied category with more expensive and cheaper options and there are many ways that consumers can shop around to look for lower prices, from choosing frozen, tinned or dried varieties, to special offers at supermarkets and cheaper options at markets.”

Mel Wakeman, a senior lecturer in nutrition and applied physiology at Birmingham City University, said the public needed help to include more fruit and veg in their diets.

He called on government to place restrictions on junk food and food providers to take responsibility and promote healthier products.

“It is shocking that families don’t buy fruit and veg because they can’t afford it and that children can’t identify fresh vegetables,” ​Wakeman told

“We do rely heavily on convenience food and at the moment the humble fruit or vegetable simply can’t compete.”

Related topics: Market Trends

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