Healthy Produce Cost Three Times As Much As Junk Food - Is There Any Hope?

09/10/2014 10:28 BST | Updated 09/10/2014 14:59 BST

As if supermarket shopping wasn't stressful enough already, a new study has found that healthy foods cost three times more than less-healthy alternatives.

Researchers found that the price of healthier foods including salmon, lean beef mince, fruit and vegetables has risen sharply in the last 10 years.

Meanwhile unhealthy food types, such as frozen pizzas and beef burgers, have seen a slower and less dramatic price increase.

healthy food vs junk food

Experts from the Centre for Diet and Activity Researches (CEDAR) at the University of Cambridge - who tracked the cost of key foods and drinks per calorie - suggested that more could be done to take into account the cost of healthy living when making public health decisions.

Lead author Nicholas Jones said: "Food poverty and the rise of food banks have recently been an issue of public concern in the UK, but as well as making sure people don't go hungry it is also important that a healthy diet is affordable.

"The increase in the price difference between more and less healthy foods is a factor that may contribute towards growing food insecurity, increasing health inequalities, and a deterioration in the health of the population."

Researchers tracked the price of 94 key food and drink items from 2002 to 2012.

They found that more healthy foods were consistently more expensive than less healthy foods, and have risen more sharply in price over time.

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In 2002, 1,000 kcal of healthy food - as defined by government criteria - cost an average of £5.65, compared to purchasing the same quantity of energy from less healthy food at £1.77.

By 2012 this cost had changed to £7.49 for more healthy and £2.50 for less healthy foods.

While less healthy foods had a slightly greater price rise in percentage terms, the absolute increase was significantly more for more healthy foods - a total average increase of £1.84 per 1,000 kcal for more healthy food across the decade, compared to £0.73 for less healthy food.

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The cost of diet-related ill health to the National Health Service has been estimated to be £5.8 billion annually, researchers added.

Mr Jones said: "The finding shows that there could well be merit in public health bodies monitoring food prices in relation to nutrient content, hopefully taking into account a broader selection of foods than we were able to in this study."

The study's authors said their conclusion that more healthy food is more expensive tallies with work from similar high income nations.

Senior author Pablo Monsivais said: "To help achieve long-term improvements in eating habits, we need to address the high and rising prices of healthier foods, which is likely to be influenced by a number of factors including agricultural policy and production, food distribution, and retail pricing strategies.

"Additionally, there is growing evidence that targeted subsidies can promote healthy eating for people on low incomes."

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The food and beverages studied were those which remained in the "basket" used by the Office of National Statistics' Consumer Price Index (below) for the entire 10 years.

Healthy foods price increase 2002-2012

Tomatoes was £9.53 now £13.21

Vegetable burgers was £2.17 now £2.80

Semi-skimmed milk was £1.07 now £1.73

Canned tuna was £3.22 now £5.54

Yoghurt was £14.09 now £17.68

Salmon was £4.11 now £6.87

Lean beef mince was £2.64 now £4.52

Iceberg lettuce was £11.36 now £16.45

Cauliflower was £6.89 now £9.97

Canned soup was £1.91 now £3.42

Unhealthy foods price increase 2002-2012

Frozen pizza was £2.10 now £1.58

Beefburger was £1.24 now £2.01

Bacon was £3.14 now £4.15

Cola drink was £2.61 now £4.24

Doughnut was £0.96 now £0.98

Ice cream was £1.50 now £1.57

Box of chocolates was £6.25 now £4.68

Jar of jam was £0.86 now £0.99

Sponge cake was £1.26 now £1.21

Fizzy energy drink was £4.09 now £5.55

Prices are based on the average prices for a range of products. Foods have been ranked as healthy or unhealthy, using Government criteria.

Do you find that eating healthy is difficult on a budget? Tweet us @HuffPoLifestyle.