Healthy food still remains the cheaper option at local supermarkets, following a study by Far West LHD Dietetic students on affordability which compared prices over a six year period.
University of Wollongong students have been working with the Far West LHD Dietetics Department to re-investigate the affordability of the 2013 Broken Hill Practical Healthy Food Basket and 2014 Broken Hill “Unhealthy” Food Basket at local supermarkets.
These baskets are based on feeding a family of four or two with either a practical, healthy diet or a more common diet including takeaway and convenience foods.
At all supermarkets the healthy basket was about 50% cheaper for both families when compared to the unhealthy (more common eating style) basket.
“This local research into the affordability of a healthy diet has disputed the perceived assumption that healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy,” said Olivia Fischer, UOW student dietitian.
The healthy basket was costed at an average of $257.97 per week for a family of four and $141.11 per week for a family of two. The unhealthy basket cost $488.60 for the family of four and $306.41 for the family of two. Across the six year period between the studies the cost of the healthy basket has decreased in price by an average of $8.50. The unhealthy/common basket has increased in price by an average of $52.
The most expensive food group on average for the healthy basket was ‘Meat and Alternatives’ as meat is typically more expensive per kilogram. The unhealthy basket had an addition of two non-traditional food groups: take-away and alcohol, significantly increasing the overall cost. Around 60% of food costs was spent on take-away, alcohol and non-core foods in the unhealthy/common basket. This staggering figure is supported by findings from the Australian Government that in 2014 that 58.2% of Australians household budget was spent on discretionary food and drinks.
“Not only is the unhealthy basket considerably more expensive but also means an adequate diet is not achieved and essential nutrients from the five food groups are not being met,” said Katherine Russell, UOW student dietitian. “Choosing healthy dietary choices is clearly the more affordable way to go,” said Olivia.
It is recommended that food should take up a maximum of 30% of a household budget to be considered affordable. Hence, for those on low incomes or some government allowances this healthy basket may still be unaffordable. Expenses from food are usually the first to reduce to accommodate for other household utilities, which can lead to food insecurity and in the long term malnutrition.
“Cost plays a large role when determining what an individual places in their supermarket trolley. However, as dietitians we understand location, transportation, convenience, cooking skills, food literacy and individuals priorities need to be also taken into consideration,” said Katherine.
The UOW students are currently in the process of developing practical resources focused at healthy eating on a budget such as ‘Healthy Pantry Essentials’, ‘Tips and Tricks for every aisle’ and ‘Healthy Eating on a Budget’. These resources will be made available to the community through our local dietitians, their facebook page and community events.
Top Tips for saving money:
- Browse the weekly catalogue and find items you need on special
- Make a shopping list and stick to it
- Shop the core foods first (fruit, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy)
- Buy in bulk not just for convenience
- Choose fresh fruit and vegetables in season
- Don’t forget about frozen and canned products
- Avoid going shopping on an empty stomach