Cost of Living Crisis to make Britons more obese
Fresh vegetables and fish are falling off the menu. Packaged pizzas and processed meat are the dishes of the day.
Many British households are turning away from healthier foods as rampant inflation pushes them towards cheaper processed meals, according to consumer data and experts who are worried about the nation taking a nutritional nosedive.
Joanne Farrer used to regularly serve her three children roast beef dinners or stews packed with fresh vegetables. Now she’s more likely to give them chicken nuggets and fries or sausages and mashed potatoes, which are “cheaper and filling”.
A person buys produce from a fruit and vegetable market stall in central London, Britain, August 19, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
Her monthly welfare payment’s mostly swallowed by rent and the rising cost of gas and electricity.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” said the 44-year-old, who does voluntary work for a charity in the city of Portsmouth on England’s south coast.
“You think, when’s it going to end? But it’s not.”
As grocery prices rise across the board, the cost of fresh food has largely been outpacing processed and packaged products, according to the official UK consumer price index (CPI).
Prices for fresh vegetables rose about 14% in September versus the same month last year earlier for example, while fresh beef also jumped 14%, fish 15%, poultry 17%, eggs 22% and low-fat milk 42%.
Meanwhile, salted or smoked meat such as bacon and crisps went up a slower pace of about 12% each, packaged pizzas rose nearly 10%, sugary snacks like gummies increased by 6% and chocolate increased by just over 3%.
Shopping habits are changing too, according to exclusive data from NielsenIQ, which created a basket of 37 food products for Reuters. Volume sales of fresh vegetables fell by more than 6% and fresh meat by over 7% in August, for example, while sales of snacks and candy rose almost 4%.
The data underscores the trend towards processed food implied by the CPI figures, which do not include sales, raising red flags for public health advocates.
“There is plenty of evidence that poor diets lacking in fruit and vegetables have serious consequences for health,” said Shona Goudie, policy research manager at the Food Foundation, a British charity that promotes healthy diets.
“We also know that cheap highly processed foods are the ones most likely to cause obesity.”
Packaged food products often contain unhealthy levels of salt, fat and sugar, plus flavour-enhancers and preservative chemicals to give them longer shelf lives, and are associated with higher risks of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers.
Britain is already near the forefront of an “obesity epidemic” across Europe, where almost 60% of adults are overweight or obese, raising their risk of premature death and serious disease, according to a World Health Organization report in May.
Sharron Spice, a London-based youth worker, said people visiting food banks had stopped requesting fresh food because they worried about having to use gas or electricity to cook it.
She added that many parents would go for buy-one-get-one-free deals in supermarkets: “Cheap food like pizza and everything that’s unhealthy for you, basically.”
The country is not alone in facing an inflation crisis that descended in the wake of the COVID pandemic and has been deepened by the war in Ukraine.
More than half of consumers in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have cut down on essentials, such as food, driving and heating, according to a poll by market research firm IRI this month.
Britain’s economic health has also been complicated by its messy withdrawal from the European Union, and bruised by a period of political mayhem that’s seen three prime ministers in three months.