Many low-income families struggle to afford healthy diet

By June Shannon Nutrition News   |   12th Jul 2019

‘People often fill up on cheap food that’s nutritionally poor when prioritising other bills that need to be paid.’

Many low-income families living in Ireland today may be forced to sacrifice a healthy diet due to other competing costs such as rent and bills.

This was one of the findings of a recent study by safefood, which found that those living in low income households faced a number of challenges balancing the cost of basic and nutritious food with other weekly expenses.

The research, which was published earlier this month, revealed that some families on low incomes would need to spend up to a third of their weekly income on food in order to have a healthy diet.

According to safefood, households on a low incomes tend to eat less well, have poorer health outcomes with higher levels of excess weight and its complications.

Safefood stated that the barriers to a healthy diet include competing pressures within a limited household budget such as the need to meet a number of expenses as well pay for food and the lack of local stores that stock an adequate range of healthy foods.

Low literacy and food skills, lack of access to education and information on healthy eating are also contributing factors to an inadequate and unhealthy diet,” safefood added.

“Food is a more flexible part of a family’s budget and can be controlled more than other costs like rent and utilities, so it is often where families cut back when times are tough. Ultimately the priority becomes filling everybody up, so no one goes hungry,"

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , Irish Heart Foundation

The report entitled “What is the cost of a healthy food basket in the Republic of Ireland in 2018?” found that the composition and location of households had an impact on costs; those households with children, in particular with teenagers, and those living in rural areas need to spend more. Households where the only income was from state benefits spent a larger percentage of income on food than those households where one adult is in employment.

The research found the cost of a healthy food basket for different low-income household types: A two-parent, two-child household needs to spend between 22 and 33 per cent of income (€128 to €153 a week). A one-parent, two-child family, needs to spend between 15 and 28 per cent of income (€97 a week). In addition, for a retired couple dependent on the State pension, the cost of a healthy food basket is 19 per cent of income (€83 per week).

Introducing the report, Mr Ray Dolan, CEO, safefood said, “This study confirms how food poverty is an everyday reality for 1 in 10 households in Ireland. Managing on a tight budget means that families with children, single adults living alone, and pensioners have to make stark choices in how they spend their money. Food spending is the flexible element of the household budget and people often fill up on cheap food that’s nutritionally poor when prioritising other bills that need to be paid.”

Dr Marian O’Reilly, Chief Specialist in Nutrition, safefood said; “While there has been a small decline in the proportion of income needed to be spent on an acceptable and nutritious food basket, it’s still very high.”

Commenting Sarah Noone, dietitian with the Irish Heart Foundation said the report confirms that access to good quality, nutritious food is severely restricted in a significant portion of the Irish population due to barriers such as affordability and accessibility of healthier food choices.

“Food is a more flexible part of a family’s budget and can be controlled more than other costs like rent and utilities, so it is often where families cut back when times are tough. Ultimately the priority becomes filling everybody up, so no one goes hungry. A healthy balanced diet with fruit and vegetables is more expensive than a heavily processed nutritionally poor diet with little variety.”

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dietitian food basket food poverty health literacy low incomes nutrition safefood

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