Australian households spend the majority (58 per cent) of their food budget on discretionary or ‘junk’ foods and drinks, including take-aways (14 per cent) and sugar-sweetened beverages (4 per cent), according to new research.
According to Professor Amanda Lee, who is presenting her research at the Dietitians Association of Australia’s National Conference in Hobart this week, healthy diets are more affordable than current (unhealthy) diets – costing households 15 per cent less.
But according to Australian Health Survey data, few Australians consume diets consistent with national recommendations.
“Less than four per cent of Australians eat adequate quantities of healthy foods, yet more than 35 per cent of energy (kilojoule) intake comes from discretionary foods and drinks, which provide little nutrition – and this is hurting our health and our hip pocket,” said Professor Lee, from the Sax Institute.
She said the figures are particularly worrying because poor diet is the leading preventable cause of ill health in Australia and globally, contributing to almost 18 per cent of deaths in Australia, while obesity costs the nation $58 billion a year.
Professor Lee, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, added that ill health due to poor diet is not shared equally, with some population groups, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people who are disadvantaged socioeconomically, more at risk.
Her research found that, although healthy diets cost less than current (unhealthy) diets, people in low income households need to spend around a third (31 per cent) of their disposable income to eat a healthy diet, so food security is a real problem in these households.
She added that policies that increase the price differential between healthy and unhealthy diets could further compromise food security in vulnerable groups.
“At the moment, basic healthy foods like fresh vegetables and fruit are except from the GST, but there’s been talk of extending this to all foods. If this were to happen, the cost of a healthy diet would become unaffordable for low-income families,” said Lee.
Lee said Australia needs a coordinated approach to nutrition policy – a call echoed by the Dietitians Association of Australian, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Heart Foundation and Nutrition Australia.