Poor diet is the leading single preventable risk factor contributing to the burden of disease and food security is key to reducing prevalence of obesity and chronic disease, particularly in low socioeconomic groups. When Dr Meron Lewis presented at the PHAA Preventive Health Conference on the cost and affordability of healthy diets in low socioeconomic groups in Australia, there was one particular graph in her slide deck that drew audible gasps from the audience. The startling rise in healthy food prices compared to unhealthy options even took the research team by surprise.
Source: Healthy food prices increased more than the prices of unhealthy options during the COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent challenges to the food system
The study found that from 2019 to 2021 prices of food and drinks in the sample area of Brisbane increased gradually, consistent with the CPI-food rate, but escalated markedly between 2021 and 2022. As the graph above shows, the increase in the cost of the recommended diet was considerably higher than the increase in cost of the habitual diet.
Increased income support during the first year of the pandemic meant that for the first time, welfare-dependent families had economic access to a recommended diet. Although the study confirmed healthy diets can be less expensive than habitual diets, they are now increasingly out of reach for many.
Recommended diets are once again unaffordable for welfare-dependent households. While the current income rises are welcome, they are relatively small and don’t go far enough to combat the rising prices of healthy food.Dr Meron Lewis
Food prices have continued to escalate due to a perfect storm of factors from extreme weather events and natural disasters to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ongoing COVID-19 related supply chain disruptions. Increasing global and national inflation has also increased the price of gas and electricity, which are used for cooking, and of fuel used for shopping. Escalating inflation also impacts access to affordable ‘health hardware’ such as working stoves and fridges or pots and pans to cook with.
Results of the study ‘Healthy food prices increased more than the prices of unhealthy options during the COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent challenges to the food system’ have been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The authors also recommend the development and publication of a CPI-healthy food index to help better identify health and related economic risks.