Policy changes needed to make healthy food more affordable

Published: Thu 9 Aug 2012 08:55 AM
Policy changes needed to make healthy food more affordable
Public Health Association media release, 9 August 2012
The poorer quality and affordability of healthy food sold in many convenience stores encourages unhealthy food choices, says a researcher who surveyed shops in Porirua.
As part of a study looking at how to increase access to good nutrition, Vicki Robinson, a dietitian with Regional Public Health, asked six Porirua store owners about what stopped them stocking healthier food.
One of the major barriers cited by store owners was that consumers in lower socioeconomic areas are extremely price conscious and, she says, more needs to be done to make healthier food affordable.
All the store owners she spoke to said they believed healthier versions of foods, even basics such as bread and milk, were more expensive than less healthy alternatives and this was regularly quoted as a reason customers didn’t buy them. Low cost breads were described as being the only ones purchased by customers and consequently often the only bread stocked.
“This then becomes a driver for suppliers to produce budget bread where a small amount of ingredients were ‘blown up’ to produce a more affordable but less nutritious loaf,” one store owner suggested.
Ms Robinson says most store owners would be willing to sell healthier foods if they could do so profitably, but that factors influencing price were usually out of their control. She says store owners see government policy as a big influence over pricing and demand.
“Mechanisms such as excise tax, GST and free trade regulations mean stocking food that is healthy, affordable and made in New Zealand is more expensive than stocking cheap, less healthy food from markets such as Asia.”
She says the store owners’ perceptions are supported by other evidence and that policy led initiatives by the government and the food industry are needed to reverse our food system’s reliance on cheap and energy dense foods, which are major drivers of obesity.
“Policies such as banning food marketing to children and the investment in healthy public food service policy are needed to address the affordability and promotion of healthy foods to make them easier to access by all people,” she says.

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