Healthy eating could trim your wallet as well as your waistline due to a spike in UK food prices, according to a study by Cambridge University.
Researchers examined the prices of nearly 100 “healthy foods”, including salmon, yoghurts and raw vegetables, and compared the figures with the cost of pizzas, microwave dinners and donuts between 2002 and 2012.
They found that 1,000 calories worth of healthy foods costs nearly £5 more than 1,000 calories worth of unhealthy snacks. This compares starkly with 2004 prices, where the difference stood at a leaner £3.88.
The report also found that while the price of healthy foods increased by £1.84 per 1,000 calories over the period, the same calorie intake of unhealthy foods rose by an average of only 73 pence.
“The findings show there could well be merit in public health bodies monitoring food prices in relation to nutrient content, hopefully taking into account a broader selection of foods than we were able to in this study,” said Nicholas Jones, of Cambridge University’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research.
“The increase in the price difference between more and less healthy foods is a factor that may contribute towards growing food insecurity, increasing health inequalities, and a deterioration in the health of the population.”
Jones also urged the government to implement measures that would make healthy food more affordable, citing the rise in the number of people in “food poverty” or dependent on food banks.
“As well as making sure people don’t go hungry, it is also important that a healthy diet is affordable,” he added.
It is estimated that the NHS spends £5.8 billion annually on treating people with diet-related illnesses.
While unhealthy foods have a greater price increase per item, they are marginally cheaper as a whole compared to a basket of healthier goods.
Pablo Monsivais, a senior author of the report, also said the government needed to look at different policy initiatives, including the sourcing of foods, if it wanted to convince people to eat more healthily.
“To help achieve long-term improvements in eating habits, we need to address the high and rising prices of healthier foods, which is likely to be influenced by a number of factors including agricultural policy and production, food distribution, and retail pricing strategies,” he said.
“Additionally, there is growing evidence that targeted subsidies can promote healthy eating for people on low incomes.”