Cheap as Chips: Is a healthy diet affordable?
2 March 2017
It is widely believed that healthy eating is relatively expensive whereas ‘junk food’ is relatively cheap. This has led to an assumption that poor diets and obesity are directly caused by economic deprivation.
This report compares the price of food under two separate methodologies: direct comparisons of healthy and less healthy substitutes, and comparisons of healthy and less healthy products by edible weight. Prices were taken from two leading British supermarkets in November 2016.
There is little difference between the price of regular food products and their healthier substitutes in most categories, such as baked beans, soft drinks, milk and bread. A few healthier options are more expensive (eg. brown rice, lean mince) while others are cheaper (eg. low-sugar breakfast cereals, yoghurt). White meat is significantly cheaper than red meat, but processed meat tends to be cheaper than fillets of meat. Most healthy substitutes cost the same, or are within 10 per cent (+/-), of the less healthy option.
Measured by edible weight, healthier food in supermarkets tends to be cheaper than less healthy food. A wide range of fruit, vegetables and starchy carbohydrates are available at ≤ £2.00 per kilogram. By contrast, the majority of less healthy products, such as ready-meals, chocolate, crisps and bacon, cost ≥ £3.00, with very few available for less than £1 per kilogram.
Since healthy food is generally cheaper than less healthy food, it is unlikely that taxes and/or subsidies would have a significant impact on dietary choices. Taxing food that is disproportionately consumed by people on low incomes in order to subsidise food that is disproportionately consumed by people on high incomes would be heavily regressive unless people on low incomes responded by changing their dietary habits dramatically, which is unlikely.
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EPICENTER publications and contributions from our member think tanks are designed to promote the discussion of economic issues and the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. As with all EPICENTER publications, the views expressed here are those of the author and not EPICENTER or its member think tanks (which have no corporate view).
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