Tuesday 23 April 2019

Poor paying a high price for the expensive cost of healthy food

Fat used to be revered as a sign of health and prosperity.
Fat used to be revered as a sign of health and prosperity.
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Have you ever seen a top businessman or a rich oligarch with a fat woman on his arm? I think not. The super rich value being super skinny. For the first time in history the poor are now fatter than the rich.

Fat used to be revered as a sign of health and prosperity. Having a round middle and flabby thighs was a symbol of your success. Being rotund proved that your job did not require manual labour and that food was always plentiful in your home.

But today the opposite is true. The most expensive clothes are made in small sizes and the healthiest food is the costliest. The rich now spend their days in sweatshops but, instead of labouring for long hours in these sweltering rooms, the rich work out. They strike yoga poses and twist their bodies into complex shapes while sweating out toxins.

Those struggling on low incomes can readily avail of cheap, mass market clothes sold in supermarkets - all of which are made in big sizes with plenty of room to accommodate the rounder torso.

Whereas once you'd see people living in deprived areas with thin, undernourished faces, now you see them waddling down the road, obese and out of breath. Why the change? How did this switching of body shapes occur? It's simple - healthy food is more expensive than junk food.

A Cambridge University study last week revealed how much cheaper junk food is than healthy food. The findings showed that eating healthily costs three times more than eating processed food.

The price difference between good and bad food has significantly widened. In the last 10 years, healthy food has gone up €2.33, compared to €0.93 for unhealthy food.

The researchers looked at 94 different items of food that were available 10 years ago and are still on the shelves today. Then they worked out the average cost of 1,000 calories from good food, such as fish and vegetable,s compared to bad food, such as pizzas and doughnuts.

A thousand calories from healthy food cost €9.50 while the same calories in junk food cost a mere €3.17. This cost hike is certainly a deterrent to poor people. But surely you can still shop cheaply and have a healthy diet. Poor people in Asia survive on rice, lentils and vegetables - a cheap but healthy option.

So what are the other reasons that are leading low-income families to make bad food choices that are destroying their health? Many reasons have been cited, including, a lack of education about nutrition. It is vital that we teach children in schools about nutrition and how to cook a few basic low-cost healthy dishes.

Another problem is time. A low-income mother holding down two jobs doesn't have the time to cook a meal from scratch in between shifts. It's a lot easier to shove a pizza in the oven than to start chopping vegetables for a soup.

Lack of exercise is another big problem in low-income areas, as families eat fast food meals in front of the television.

Between 1980 and 2013 the number of overweight and obese people worldwide rose from 857 million to 2.1 billion. This represents an increase of 28pc in adults and, even more alarming, a 47pc increase in children.

The UN's target of stopping the rise in obesity by 2025 is ambitious and cannot succeed without concerted action and intervention.

The obesity problem is one that is causing havoc on the population of this island, with Ireland's obesity levels in excess of the European average. A frightening 66pc of Irish men over 20 are considered overweight or obese, as are 50.9pc of Irish women over 20.

Obesity rates are not just down to the price of food, they are also linked to lifestyle, lack of education, long working hours and convenience.

In Western Europe, the country with the lowest rate of obesity is Andorra. Perhaps we should look to this tiny country, situated in the Pyrenees, between France and Spain, for guidance.

Maybe pure, fresh mountain air, skiing and hearty soups are the answer. Or maybe because it's one of the world's wealthiest countries and its inhabitants can afford to eat healthily.

Irish Independent

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