Courtesy Sarah Berry The Age May 2017
~~Australians are spending more than half of their food budget on junk foods, despite a healthier diet being more affordable.
These are the findings of research being presented by public health expert and dietitian Professor Amanda Lee at the Dietitians Association of Australia's National Conference in Hobart this week.
Confusion over healthy food leads to a big spend-up on junk. Photo: Getty
Lee and her team from the Queensland University of Technology found that Australians spend, on average, 58 per cent of their food and drink budget on discretionary foods.
"I was very surprised," Lee says. "We know that Australian adults have about 35 per cent of their energy intake that comes from what we call discretionary foods and drinks – so foods and drinks that are high in sat fat, sugar, salt or alcohol that aren't needed for a healthy diet. For kids it's up to 40 per cent, and those foods displace the healthy foods.
All up, it's not cheaper, so why do we do it? Photo: iStock
"But the rhetoric is that healthy food is more expensive, so we were expecting that there would be a lesser figure spent on the unhealthy food. But what our research found was that it's actually cheaper to eat a healthy diet."
A "healthy diet" means eating basic healthy foods in line with the dietary guidelines, recommendations that less than 4 per cent of the Australian population currently follow.
"They're not necessarily organic, but basic healthy supermarket foods, nothing special, no 'superfoods'," Lee explains. "Basic fruit and vegetables and wholegrain cereals et cetera."
Eating in this way was found to cost households 15 per cent less than the unhealthy diets.
She says the confusion about unhealthy foods costing less may be down to comparing individual foods, rather than the diet as a whole.
"They might advertise single items of food that look cheap for one person but to feed a whole family on takeaway foods – by the time they buy extra drinks, by the time they buy extra chips, by the time the man says one Big Mac doesn't fill me up I'm going to buy two – it can mount up," Lee says.
She adds that, in Australia, basic healthy foods are exempt from GST but unhealthy foods are not.
"We've got a bit of a fat tax happening because the discretionary foods, the unhealthy foods are charged GST."
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