IT can be up to 10 times cheaper to eat unhealthy foods loaded with fat, sugar and salt than to buy healthy items such as fruit, vegetables, lean meat and fish, a new Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) report has found.
For example, buying 100 calories worth of fruit and vegetables costs at least 45c, whereas 100 calories of snacks, crisps or biscuits costs 17c and 100 calories of fats and oils costs just 4c, they found.
This means it's cheaper to buy unhealthy snack foods which satisfy hunger quickly or use high-fat spreads and oils to fry food rather than buying fresh produce, they found.
And the choice of places to shop also plays a role, as convenience stores are more accessible for many low-income families but are up to twice as expensive as supermarkets for healthy foods. A healthy weekly basket of foods for a family of four costs €273 in a convenience store, compared to €141 in a supermarket. The price gap means that cuts to social welfare and child benefit will make it even harder for low-income families to eat healthily, according to the Healthy Food For All (HFFA) group, which promotes access to better quality food. HFFA yesterday highlighted how cuts recommended by the McCarthy report would impact on the diets of poorer households.
Government policy must address the financial and other barriers to healthy eating and at a minimum welfare rates must not be reduced, said HFFA's chairperson Marjo Moonen.
"We know that a healthy diet helps to prevent heart disease, stroke, cancers and obesity. All households, regardless of their income, have a right to food that provides adequate nutrition," she said.
The FSAI study found that a healthy diet costs a low-income family of four between 26pc and 58pc of their weekly income, depending on where they shop, while for a single mother with one child it ranges from 18pc to 43pc.
For teenagers, who naturally need more food than small children, the cost of healthy eating can be more than their entire weekly child-income support, the FSAI study found.
If the government cuts social welfare payments by 5pc and cuts child benefit by 18pc to 30pc, as was proposed in the McCarthy report, the proportion of income a family would have to spend in order to eat healthily would rise by up to 14pc, HFFA said.