Why we studied this topic
For many years in Australia we had been monitoring the cost of a single basket of “healthy” food items, but that wasn’t informing what we needed to do from a policy perspective to improve the affordability of healthy food. Using dietary data from the 2011-13 Australian Health Survey, we were able to cost people’s actual diets and compare these to what they should be eating, based on the NHMRC Australian Dietary Guidelines.
What this paper adds
This pilot study was unique in that nobody had costed the price of actual diets and the price differential between actual and healthy diets as the outcome before. This showed that healthy diets were around 12% cheaper than current (less healthy) diets for a family of two adults and two children per fortnight.
What was surprising?
The assumption was that healthy foods were more expensive than unhealthy foods. But our research shows a healthy diet can be good for people’s hip pocket as well as their health.
What it means for policy
This paper suggests that more should be done to promote that healthy eating doesn’t need to be expensive. It also shows that expanding the base of the GST (to add GST to basic healthy foods that are currently exempt) would introduce an additional barrier to the consumption of healthy diets.
With funding from the Prevention Centre, we have refined methods and now we have a robust, acceptable, standardised way of measuring food costs in Australia in a way that can inform policy.