Low-income parents struggle to afford healthy foods, research shows

Posted: 19 March 2024 | | No comments yet

The Food Foundation has released a report revealing parents on lower incomes face barriers to affording vegetables, fruit and wholegrains.

fruit and veg

A report carried out by The Food Foundation has spotlighted new information regarding the accessibility of healthy food items including fruit, vegetables and wholegrains in the UK.

As part of its Kids Food Guarantee Programme, The Food Foundation’s research revealed that 14 percent of the lowest priced fruit and veg products sold in major UK retailers contain salt and/or sugar. This is something The Food Foundation believes is “concerning given that young children are advised to have only very limited amounts of salt and added sugar in their diets, and these products cannot be purchased with Healthy Start vouchers so low income families will be more limited in their options”.

In addition, it shared that “if poorer families were buying the lowest priced fruit and veg available” it would amount to 34-52 percent of one person’s weekly food budget to afford a week’s worth of 5-a-day. This sits in comparison the wealthiest 10 percent of families, where 17-26 of the weekly food shop budget is taken up.

Going further, The Food Foundation found that the cheapest fruit and veg items that are available to order online are “not often stocked in stores”.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Rebecca Tobi, Senior Business and Investor Engagement Manager, at The Food Foundation, said: “There are very few people who would argue with the fact that fruit and veg should be the absolute cornerstone of a healthy diet.

“Which is why it’s crucial that supermarkets and policy makers act to close the inequality gap when it comes to supporting low income households to access and afford healthy staples.”

Majority of consumers expect to see a rise in food prices

The UK Government’s Eatwell Guide recommends that at least five portions of fruit and vegetables should be eaten per day however, the NHS has shared on its website that “most of us still are not eating enough fruit and vegetables”.

“The Eatwell Guide and a large body of evidence supports the critical role fruit, veg and wholegrains ought to play in a healthy, balanced diet. But our food environment is setting families up to fail, with the healthiest options often the hardest to easily access and afford,” continued Tobi.

To gather data, staff from The Food Foundation and Young Food Ambassadors visited 30 stores across the UK to carry out spot tests on how widely available the 10 cheapest fruit and veg items are for each retailer. Results concluded that 60 percent of stores had five or less of the 10 lowest cost items identified in stock.

Retailers in the UK were found to have five items available on average however this figure dropped in local/express stores where the average stood at four. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of all products were wholegrain, whole wheat, brown, or 50:50 and just six whole wheat noodle products were available across all seven retailers included in the study.

Tobi went on to urge the UK Government to “ensure the cost of a healthy diet as recommended in the UK’s healthy eating guidance is factored into benefits and minimum wage levels”. As well as this she believes that retailers in the UK “need to do more” to ensure that competitively priced healthy essentials are available across all product categories, and in all stores.

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