Page last updated at 01:00 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Recession thwarts healthy efforts

Paying for shopping
Healthy food options may be too expensive given the current economy

A quarter of people are putting healthier eating on the back burner in the wake of the financial crisis, a report by a consumer watchdog reveals.

Which? found 24% of UK adults feel healthier eating is now less important, with 56% saying price has overtaken as a priority when choosing food.

And the poll of 2,102 showed 76% think the government needs to take action to make choosing healthier options easier.

Meanwhile other work shows more plan to quit smoking during the credit crunch.

Customers should look beyond scare headlines, get into supermarkets and see just how affordable good fresh food is
Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium
The charity No Smoking Day day found more than one in three of the nine million smokers in the UK are thinking about or planning to cut down or quit as a direct result of the economic downturn.

After health, the most commonly-mentioned reason for wanting to give up smoking is financial, followed by family pressure and the effect on children.

Watching pennies and waistlines

Although most of us want to eat more healthily, the current economic climate is a barrier to our good intentions, says Which?

Nearly three in five said they would buy more fruit and vegetables if they were cheaper.

Buy foods in season
Plan meals to avoid impulse buying
Make double and freeze the extra
Make meals from scratch
Use leftovers
Use food before it goes out of date, don't waste it
Look for the cheapest prices rather than the biggest discounts
Bulk-buy starchy foods
Source: Which?

Which? says it is up to government and the food industry to remove many of the barriers to healthy eating.

Sue Davies, chief policy advisor, said: "As the credit crunch bites it's important that government and industry aren't distracted. They can't be allowed to put the fight against obesity on hold.

"We want to see a dramatic increase in the pace of action in all areas."

This includes further reductions in salt, fat and sugar in foods, better nutritional labelling of foods (particularly in restaurants), supermarket promotions of healthy foods and improving the quality of food in hospitals and nurseries.

If the demands are not met, the consequences for health in the UK will soon be devastating, Which? warns.

Hard times

Rates of obesity and diet-related disease continue to rise, with around a quarter of the UK population now obese.

Based on current trends, almost 60% of the UK population will be obese by 2050.

In the meantime, there are things people can do to help themselves through these hard financial times, such as making meals from scratch and buy fruits and vegetables that are in season - things that should make food shopping bills more affordable.

Eating well and moving more does not have to be expensive or difficult
A Department of Health spokesperson

The British Retail Consortium said Which? was wrong to say price was a barrier to eating well.

Spokesman Andrew Opie said: "Which? is actually discouraging customers from exploring healthy eating choices by pushing the myth that fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive. Customers should look beyond scare headlines, get into supermarkets and see just how affordable good fresh food is."

He said retailers and manufacturers had worked hard to make food more healthy and affordable.

Julian Hunt of the Food and Drink Federation said: "UK food and drink manufacturers have made a massive contribution to improving the health of the nation.

"Our members are helping consumers make healthier choices through a combination of recipe changes, the development of 'better for you' options and improved nutrition information on packs.

"The recession is clearly making life difficult for our sector, but we see no evidence to suggest this is causing a health crunch."

Food labelling

But Mubeen Bhutta, of the British Heart Foundation, said food manufacturers had been dragging their feet on food labelling.

"People want to eat healthily but they're not being given clear health and nutritional information about the food in their shopping basket.

"It's now time for the Government to take a lead and introduce a mandatory, front of pack food labelling system that allows people to really understand the nutritional content of their food choices.

"Traffic light colour coding would give people the at-a-glance information they need to make the healthy choice the easy choice."

Dr Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: "The food industry should put its money where its mouth is. Let's have a massive 'crunch' campaign to remind people just how nutritious - and affordable - fruit and veg can be."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The Change4Life campaign is engaging with and supporting families to change their lifestyles for the better. Eating well and moving more does not have to be expensive or difficult.

"We are leading the way on salt reductions, labelling and food advertising but it is important we stay ahead of the game.

"We want to see businesses going further, making nutritional information clearly available on packs and menus, using the power of marketing to promote healthy products and making snack-sized options available."

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