Sticking to government healthy eating guidelines is too expensive, says report

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/CentralITAlliance
© GettyImages/CentralITAlliance
Lower income households in the UK are priced out of a healthy diet and the government must do more to ensure healthy foods are affordable, according to a report by think tank The Food Foundation.

The Food Foundation is an independent, public-interest think tank that focuses on the challenges faced by the UK’s food system.

For this report, The Affordability of the UK's Eatwell Guide​, published today, it used household expenditure data from the government’s 2015/16 Living Costs and Food Survey and disposable income data from the 2015/16 Family Resources Survey, which it compared to the cost of following the UK government's healthy eating guide, Eatwell.

Eatwell recommends that at least one third of an individual's diet is made up of fruit and vegetables. 

The Food Foundation found that while the average household currently spends £36.37 per person per week on food and non-alcoholic drinks, this would need to increase to £103.17 per week for a household of four (two adults and two children) to be able to follow the Eatwell Guide.

“On average, the poorest half of households in the UK would need to spend close to 30% of their disposable income to meet the government’s dietary recommendations. The richest half of households would need to spend an average 12% of disposable income to do the same.”

Given that around 50% of disposable income is spent on housing and other essentials, the Eatwell Guide diet is “increasingly unaffordable for many​”, the report says. 

The Eatwell guide

These figures are a stark indication of the challenges low-income households face in affording the government’s recommendations for a healthy diet.”

According to figures from the UK’s department for environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA), the average British household spends 10.7% of income on food, and this is falling.

These figures are cited by the government as evidence that food is affordable in the UK,” ​says The Food Foundation. “However, they do not consider the healthfulness or sufficiency of the food purchased.”

The fact that lower-income households are priced out of healthy eating is having an impact on the health of the nation.

Over one third of 10 and 11-year olds in the UK are either obese (20%) or overweight (14%), according to National Health Service (NHS) data, while in England childhood obesity rates in the most deprived areas are double those in the least deprived area. This gap is also growing.

Government action

“The findings of this research point to the need for a coherent cross-government policy that ensures low income households can afford to follow government’s own recommendations for a healthy diet. Ensuring this affordability could be achieved through two overarching two approaches: increasing the resources and incomes of low income households and ensuring that healthy foods are available and affordable to those on a low income​.”

Industry action

But food manufacturers should also act, it said.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, told FoodNavigator it could offer support to food manufacturers "to get on board and [...] make their products healthier".

The Food Foundation has an ongoing campaign called Peas Please​  to boost the UK public’s vegetable intake.  

“One important step would be to try and incorporate extra vegetables into ready meals or sauces,” ​added Taylor.

Taylor said the UK government was “finally taking the obesity crisis seriously​” with chapter two of its Childhood Obesity Strategy going out to consultation and the London Food Strategy being published at the end of the year.   

Food manufacturers who start taking action now will be trailblazing the way and helping our children to live healthier and happier lives by reducing the occurrence of diet related diseases,” ​she added. 

The Foundation also estimates that Brexit will push up the price of fresh fruit and vegetables even further. A previous analysis it conducted suggested that fluctuations in the value of the pound and a reduced pool of horticultural workers could add around £158 (€175) to a family of four’s yearly food budget if they adhere to the Eatwell guide.

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