The Campbell Live feature looked at the thorny issue of the affordability of healthy food in New Zealand. As well as John Campbell’s interview with Darrryl Evans, reporter Tristram Clayton talked to Timaru Mum Lisa Williams, who estimates her family grocery bill has tripled since she started eating more healthily. Just as an example, she estimates that it is costing $180 per week just to feed her family of five two portions of fruit and three portions of veggies each day. Healthy eating, in her view, is just not affordable.
Lisa says healthy food should be cheaper and more support should be given to those who need to lose weight. I agree! Let’s start to make the healthy option the easy (and affordable) option with pricing strategies that support people in making healthier choices when it comes to food. And more resources to help those struggling with their weight would be a great thing, for example funding for specialist weight management services to get people on track and to help deal with the behavioural issues around food that are such a challenge for so many people.
This whole issue isn’t new. The Science Media Centre last year reported on the SHOP (Supermarket Healthy Options Project) study, which found that price discounts on healthy food were the most effective way of encouraging people to buy healthier foods.
And food stress is a topic that also concerns dietitians, who had this issue high on the agenda at their national conference last year in Dunedin.
In fact we are all talking about this issue at the moment. Campbell Live isn’t the only media outlet to have covered the high price of healthy eating over the last week.
Media reports this week suggest dairy prices are set to rise again, following signals from manufacturer Goodman Fielder that rises of up to 12% are on the horizon. Despite the fact that in February this year, Fonterra Brands said it would absorb any milk price increases from its parent company for the rest of the year rather than pass them on to Kiwi shoppers, according to this article, a Goodman Fielder spokesman said that three days after announcing that price freeze, Fonterra increased the price it charges Goodman Fielder for wholesale milk from $7.30 a kilogram of milk solids to $7.90 a kilogram.
It seems that this lack of ability to afford healthy food is contributing to considerable mental stress for people in New Zealand. Last week, new research was released from the University of Otago, drawing upon the Survey of Families, Income and Employment, which included 19,000 adults over 2004/05, as well as socioeconomic and health data from Statistics New Zealand.
Researcher Kristie Carter (a research fellow from the University of Otago) and her colleagues found food insecurity not only had an impact on nutrition and physical health, but also on the mental health of New Zealanders.
“What we found is that people who are food insecure report higher levels of psychological distress, compared to those who have enough food to eat,” she said.
In New Zealand, we produce an abundance of good quality healthy food — milk, meat, fruits and vegetables – and yet for many on a low income the only affordable food is the junk — high sugar foods, deep fried take-aways, and drinks that provide nothing but empty calories in the form of sugar.
Surely it’s about time that we started to look at pricing strategies that make the healthier options cheaper.
It’s time to start looking at the cost of food, and to ensure healthy food is affordable to all New Zealanders and particularly to children, whose nutrients needs are high.