New research today claimed to shoot down claims by health campaigners that nutritious food is more expensive than processed junk food.
A study by the Institute of Economic Affairs, using the prices of nearly 80 common types of food and drink products bought at Asda and Tesco, found they were mostly cheaper than less healthy alternatives when measured by edible weight rather than what it called ‘flawed’ cost-per-calorie methodology.
The IEA said the £1 cost of a cheeseburger could buy a kilo of sweet potatoes, two kilos of carrots, two-and-a-half kilos of pasta, 10 apples or seven bananas, claiming that the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day could cost as little as 30p.
The report said the cheapest ready meals, pizzas, burgers and sugary breakfast cereals cost more than £2 per kg.
The report says comparing food products by their cost-per-calorie had the perverse effect of making low-calorie food appear expensive by definition. It said a better approach was to compare typical servings of food by weight or portion size.
The report also pointed out that obesity had increased rapidly at a time when incomes have risen and food prices have fallen, which it said meant evidence about the price of junk food was flawed.
There was also a high rate of obesity among people on middle and high incomes, it said.
“A diet of muesli, rice, white meat, fruit and vegetables is much cheaper than a diet of Coco Pops, ready meals, red meat, sugary drinks and fast food. A wide range of healthy alternatives are available at the same price as the less healthy options,” said report author Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the IEA.
“The idea that poor nutrition is caused by the high cost of healthy food is simply wrong. People are prepared to pay a premium for taste and convenience. A nutritious diet that meets government recommendations is more affordable than ever. Given the relatively high cost of ‘junk food’, it is unlikely that taxing unhealthy food or subsidising healthy food would change people’s eating habits. Instead, it would transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “Many people think eating healthier is expensive, but this belief may be costing them more while potentially damaging their health. Tackling obesity cannot be left to the individual alone. This is why we’re working with the food and drink industry to reduce the sugar in everyday foods.”
In its evidence submitted to the government in 2015, PHE accused supermarkets of having a huge bias in favour of promotions towards foods high in sugar.
Research among 30,000 shoppers carried out by Kantar Worldpanel found food retail price promotions were more widespread in Britain than anywhere else in Europe and foods on promotion accounted for around 40% of all expenditure on food and drinks consumed at home. It also found higher-sugar products were promoted more than other foods, increasing the amount of sugar purchased from higher-sugar foods and drinks by 6%, influencing purchasing by all socioeconomic and demographic groups.