healthy eating

What price healthy eating in SA?

The cost and inaccessibility of healthier food choices are forcing the greater majority of South Africans into an unhealthy lifestyle – it costs on average 69% more to eat healthier food, says a new study on nutrition in SA by specialist researchers.

Low-fat and high-fibre options for food choices are vastly more expensive, says the study, in part explaining SA’s fast- growing epidemic of obesity, especially among black women.

Norman Temple, a researcher at Athabasca University in Canada, and Nelia Steyn at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in SA determined the extra cost of a healthy diet by comparing six commonly consumed foods with healthier versions. Their research is published in Nutrition (2011).

On a weight comparison, healthier options were between 30% and 110% more expensive. For example, 100g of reduced-fat margarine cost 58% more than the regular variety and wholewheat bread cost 17% more than white bread.

When compared on the basis of the energy provided, healthy options were even more costly. So, fat-free milk was 109% more expensive than full-cream milk and brown rice was 50% more expensive than white rice.

“For most South Africans a healthy diet is unaffordable … cost is an important factor for South Africans in gaining access to healthier food,” says a summary of the research .

Foods with a high energy density but low nutrient density, say the researchers, could be responsible for the high prevalence of obesity in people of low socioeconomic status.

Obesity is a growing problem in SA. In another scientific study, published in February in The Lancet, a medical journal, researchers found that South Africans were getting fatter faster than the global average. The study by scientists at Imperial College, London, found three-quarters of SA women and two-thirds of SA men were overweight.

Between 1980 and 2008, the average body mass index (ratio of weight to height) of SA men rose by 1,9 per decade and that of women by 1,25 . Globally, body mass index rose by 0,4 for men and 0,5 for women per decade.

Asking people to switch to foods that cost more would likely require a drop in food prices or the introduction of subsidies or incentives, say Temple and Steyn.

Healthy diet chartSource: Financial Mail

Read more here on the HSRC website