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Does Healthy Food Cost More?

Happy consumer

There are plenty of reality shows on television about challenging people on tight budgets to cook and eat healthy, nutritious food – and yet amongst many parts of the community, the perception remains that healthy food is out of reach because its cost.

What about a ‘fat tax’?
Interventions to encourage more accessibility to healthy food are often debated: one example is the suggestion to introduce a ‘fat tax’ on food with lower nutritional value. But this type of approach might not work if people already perceive healthy foods to be more expensive than other options.

In fact, it’s not actually clear what might work at a whole-of-population level to encourage people to make healthier food choices.

Study overview
Researchers from the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Victoria, Australia sought to find out if the perceptions of the cost of healthy food could be altered using an education-based intervention.

The intervention was a 10-minute slideshow to show common snack foods and low-cost, healthy alternatives, as well as tips for budgeting (such as buying yoghurt in bulk, rather than in sets of smaller tubs) and education on price comparison. This educational approach was used because it could be used repeatedly, and was low-cost to produce and deliver.

The sample for the study was a group of 66 mothers, who were split into two groups. The first group would receive the healthy food education intervention, and the second would watch a 10-minute slideshow on the topic of bicycle safety.

A survey was conducted amongst all participants at the start of the study (before the slideshow), immediately after watching the slideshow, and four weeks after viewing the slideshow to measure perception about the cost of healthy food.

Results
Analysis of the results showed that at the start of the study, all participants had similar perceptions about the cost of healthy food. Immediately following the intervention, the group that saw the healthy food slideshow saw a significantly improved perception on the affordability of healthy food, which was still in place at the four-week follow up point. In contrast, the views of participants in the control group remained unaltered for the duration of the study.

This is a simple but important piece of research to show the impact that education-based interventions can have on perceptions about the cost of healthy food. Further investigation is required on whether these changed perceptions also lead to changed purchasing and consumption habits.

What does this mean for you as a weight loss professional? If you have clients who think healthy food is out of reach for cost reasons – integrating these kinds of simple educational strategies might assist your clients to reframe their views.

Reference:
Williams, L. K., Abbott, G., Thornton, L. E., Worsley, A., Ball, K., & Crawford, D. (2014). Improving perceptions of healthy food affordability: results from a pilot intervention. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity, 11(1), 1–5.

What education do you provide your clients when it comes to the cost of healthy eating?

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