Austerity and rising food prices have hit healthy eating habits hard in the UK, with one in four Brits revealing they have not bought any fresh fruit or vegetables in the last week.
According to a survey conducted by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which polled 2,444 adults, two thirds of respondents wished they could eat more healthily, but just under half (42%) said they couldn’t because it was too expensive.
The findings come just weeks after a research paper suggested eating five portions of fruit and vegetables per day – as is currently recommended in the UK – was not enough to ward off health problems like cancer and cardiovascular disease, and that a public policy of at least daily seven portions should be considered by governments.
The BHF’s senior dietician, Victoria Taylor, told us the organisation was concerned by the implication that people were looking at price over health, adding that a concern over money is a major reason for such poor nutritional habits.
“Food prices have risen nearly twice as fast as rent in the last five years. This has left nearly two in five people admitting they have to sacrifice healthiness for cost when it comes to their grocery shop,” the charity said.
Within this, those within the lowest income bracket of less than £10,000 per year were hit the hardest – with almost 75% of this group saying they struggled to afford the recommended five-a-day, it said.
An educated, convenient guess
Taylor added that if ready meals were to be chosen over fresh fruit and vegetables, the organisation was in support of the UK government’s plan to introduce a new colour-coded labelling system, which could help consumers make more informed food decisions.
She said busy lifestyles were partly to blame for these unhealthy ready meal choices: “Our food habits have changed. In the past people could spend more time planning and cooking."
This is something that affected people across all income groups, said Taylor. However, she conceeded that those on higher earnings were able to “buy their way out of it” by purchasing healthier, more expensive ready meals.
While ready meals may not always be the cheapest choice, Talor noted that budget-wary consumers pften take take the cost of fuel for cooking the meal at home - as well as the initial product cost - into consideration. This is especially true as fuel prices have risen in the UK in recent years. As a result, she suggested that some groups of people are conscious that making a meal in a few minutes in the microwave can be cheaper in than cooking a meal from scratch using the oven, in terms of fuel costs.
If Brits were to choose ready meals, however, then the BHF preferred this to be an informed choice, Taylor said.
“The BHF supports the government’s plans to introduce front-of-pack colour coded labelling."
She added that the main purpose of the survey was to draw attention to the advice on BHF’s website, which offers information on cheap, healthy and convenient meals using the microwave.