Spending on fresh food cut during recession

4 November 2013 Last updated at 04:22 Share this pageEmailPrint

Recession hits family spending on fresh food

By Christine Jeavans

Many young families cut back on fresh fruit and vegetables and switched to less healthy processed food as the recession squeezed budgets, a UK study of 15,000 households’ data suggests.

It showed rising food prices and stagnating wages had led people to buy less food and choose cheaper products.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said pensioners, single parent households and families had the biggest drop in the nutritional quality of their diets.

Food campaigners expressed concern.

The Children’s Food Trust said the move to processed food was a “huge worry”.

The report’s authors used food purchasing data from 15,850 British households from 2005 to 2012, enabling them to analyse the impact on spending of the recession.

They found that households spent 8.5% less on food in real terms across the period as disposable incomes failed to keep pace with rising food prices.

People also swapped the type of food they bought, shifting from fresh fruit and vegetables to “calorie dense” processed food, with a resulting increase in saturated fat and sugar content, the Food Expenditure and Nutritional Quality over the Great Recession report said.

Food prices rose by 33% between 2007 and 2013, official figures show. Butter, meat and fruit prices all increased by more than average while processed food rose by 28%.

The IFS researchers found that on every measure, pensioner households, single parents and families with young children experienced a worse-than-average decline in nutritional quality.

Pensioners tended to increase their purchases of fatty foods while households with young children chose more sugary products.

Chart showing how different groups have cut back on food spending
IFS research economist Kate Smith, one of the authors of the report, said: “Over the recession households have responded to higher food prices and the squeezes on their incomes by switching to cheaper calories.

“This has coincided with a fall in the nutritional quality of foods purchased, with moves away from fresh fruit and vegetables and towards processed foods. As a result, the average saturated fat and sugar content of food purchases has increased over this period.”

Children’s Food Trust chief executive Linda Cregan said: “Feeding children well is absolutely crucial for their future health – these figures are an indication of just how tough this has become for many families in recent years.

“Some of the trends in this report are a huge worry – we need to see the foods children eat containing less saturated fat, salt and sugar, not more.”

Long-term calorie fall
A second report from the IFS, looked at longer term trends.

Between 1980 and 2009, households bought 15% to 30% fewer calories, but average weight continued to climb.

During this time there was a big rise in snacking and eating out, but an even bigger fall in calories bought for the home during the 30-year period.

“We were surprised to find that there has been a substantial decline in total calories purchased at a time when obesity has increased,” said one of this study’s authors Melanie Luhrmann.

“This does not mean that poor diet plays no part in rising obesity. But understanding the interaction between diet and physical activity is clearly crucial.”

Both reports are being presented as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Festival of Social Science in London.

One comment

  • theunhivedmind

    Anyone who buys fresh food will know that the majority of it is cheap with the exception of fruit. Do not be put off buying fresh food by deceptive article titles like the above. If you go to a market stall you will pick up quality fresh food cheap. With this fresh food you can cook numerous meals and freeze any excess and thus save money even more as well as be healthier. Look to the old depression foods and its all vegetables. Try buying this processed crap cheap, a lot of the processed meals are really expensive. Get out of Tescos, Walmart and other hell holes who sell food over priced and at least go to Aldi or Lidl. Better still find good market stalls in your local town or in the City. You could go one better and buy a greenhouse then start growing your own foods, maybe buy some hens and a goat.

    -= The Unhived Mind

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