COST OF A HEALTHY DIET Most South Africans cannot afford to eat well
The cost and inaccessibility of healthier food choices are forcing the greater majority of South Africans into an unhealthy lifestyle, find NORMAN J TEMPLE and NELIA P STEYN.
Nutrition in South Africa
In real terms, the cost of a healthier diet was R36 more per meal (or about R1 090 per month) for a family of five. Based on a 2005–2006 survey, households whose income is exceeded by just more than half the population, the increased expenditure on food of R1 090 represents 57% of total household income. This percentage decreases to about 30% for those whose household income is exceeded by one-third of the population.
Availability of choices
Studies in the US and other countries have reported that low-income areas often lack a supermarket with a wide selection of healthy food. Instead, people shop in small food stores where prices are higher and there are fewer healthier food choices. A similar scenario prevails in South Africa, where the small food stores in small towns offer limited healthy choices.
Implications for government policy
Recommendations need to be carefully crafted, especially when most people in the target population have a low income.
Asking people to switch from enjoyable foods to a combination of more expensive foods and cheap foods is likely to receive a lukewarm response. And because of the cost, a strategy of changing the national diet using health promotion is likely to achieve only limited success.
Overcoming this barrier will probably require a drop in food prices, in turn requiring government intervention in accessibility and with taxation and subsidies. Another strategy is to ensure healthy food choices are made in school meals or other sponsored nutrition programmes.
Summary of an article published in Nutrition (2011).
Dr Norman J Temple is a researcher at the Centre for Science at Athabasca University, and Dr Nelia P Steyn is a chief research specialist in the Population Health, Health Systems and Innovation programme, HSRC.