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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Healthy shopping study gives the wrong impression

Healthy eating options for a family of four can cost less than $10 more a week than more unhealthy options, an Auckland University study has found.
The study, based on research of shopping habits in a Wellington supermarket over a 12 month period, found that options such as chicken breasts over drumsticks and drinking lower fat milk made just $7 per week difference in a weekly family shop.
The results appear to contradict popular beliefs that healthier foods were much more expensive. However, the researchers said their methods didn't really reflect an average diet as it excluded fruit and vegetables, the New Zealand Herald reported.
The researchers used data from 882 shoppers from one Wellington supermarket over a 12 month period. The 88 top-selling staples were then used to create two different shopping baskets.
The basket of healthier food for a household of two adults and two children aged five to 10 cost $6.42 more a week, yet it contained a third less energy and fat and half the sugar and saturated fat.
Healthy options such as low-fat spreads and leaner cuts of meat and poultry were substantially more expensive, but healthier breakfast cereals, breads and canned fish were cheaper.
"It was interesting for us to see that for a lot of the real staple food groups, you can make healthy choices that won't cost an awful lot more," researcher Dr Cliona Ni Mhurchu told the Herald.
"But it has to be qualified that this wasn't really looking at an average diet for a family because it excludes fruit and vegetables as a major food group and we know they tend to cost a fair bit."
The study appears in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal.
Dr Ni Mhurchu next plans to research whether cutting GST off healthier foods would make people buy more healthy foods.

Gary Moller comments:
This study is flawed in two ways. The first, which is stated in the report above, is that it did not include the cost of fruit and vegetables which we eat far too little of. This is an atonishing exclusion.

The typical cost of quality fruit is anywhere from $2-$8 per Kg with the average in the supermarket right now being about $4-5 per Kg. If we were to feed each household member four helpings of fruit per day, this could add about $15 per day to the family food bill. If we add quality vegetablesother than the reliable potato to the daily diet we can add another $5-10 to the daily food bill. The total could be as much as an additional $175 per week.

I listened to a health expert on the radio yesterday using this study to admonish low income families for not feeding their kids better food. Low income families simply can not afford a diet that has ample daily servings of fresh fruit and vegetables. Any person who argues to the contary has to be in Cuckoo Land. It amazes how selective a so-called expert can be when interpreting a study to suit his agenda.

On the other hand, $175 a week can keep a family of four well supplied with loaves of white bread and bottles of coke.

The less obvious flaw of this mostly useless study is the assumption by the researchers that low fat milk and spreads and skinless chicken, canned fish and "healthier breakfast foods" are actually healthy. Fat free and sugar free are not necessarily healthier. I think they can be unhealthier. Take low fat margarine for example - most unhealthy by any standards. Eating more low fat meat is not necessarily healthy - eating less meat overall is.

Central to a healthy diet is more fresh fruit and veges and much less processed grains, manufactured oils, processed sugars, less meat and dairy, less preservatives, colourings and flavourings.

If we are to improve the nation's eating habits we must first make the healthy choices of fruit and vegetables much more affordable. Taxing the cheap offending foods like coke and white bread is not the solution for those who already struggle with their weekly food bills.

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