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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 September, 2004, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Priced out of the healthy option
by Mark Prissell
BBC News Online

A BBC survey suggests more than 80% of Britons want the cost of fruit and vegetables to be subsidised by the government to encourage healthy eating.

Experts agree high prices can deter people from choosing the healthy option.

Junk food remains a popular choice, despite the health risks
But is it really that expensive to eat well, and why do so many people choose a bad diet?

Heart disease, diabetes and types of cancer are all linked to poor eating habits.

Sue Baic, a registered dietician for 18 years, said: "Despite all the healthy eating messages, diets have got worse, especially for children.

"Fruit and veg intake is dropping and fat intake is high.

"Portion sizes - for fast food, crisps and chocolate bars - have all soared.

"But it's not always that expensive to buy fruit and veg, especially produce that is in season and from market stalls or greengrocers.

"However, the healthy eating choice isn't always the easy choice," she said.

Children eating fruit
Fruit and veg are essential to a healthy, balanced diet
Time is a factor, with some finding it easier to pop a pre-prepared meal in the microwave or grab a takeaway than shop around for fresh vegetables, peel them, prepare them and cook them.

Sadly, she said, promotions in fast food restaurants often make burgers cheaper than the salad option.

Miss Baic, who works for the British Dietetics Association, said restaurants must share the blame with the much maligned fast food outlets.

"In some restaurants, you cannot get a healthy choice and even when you can, it is often overpriced and presented unattractively," she said.

Subsidies

But as fruit and vegetables can already be bought cheaply, Miss Baic is sceptical about government subsidies.

She said the lack of time people have to shop around is more of a factor along with our culture of eating badly, as opposed to many countries on the continent .

"We just don't encourage children to eat well and so we have a generation of adults who are not used to fruit and veg. So from an early age eating badly becomes a habit," she said.

From an early age eating badly becomes a habit
Sue Baic, dietician
Dr Hannah Theobald, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, said frozen and tinned goods could often be as healthy, if not more so, than fresh produce.

But she agrees with those who say the government should subsidise fruit and veg and says cost can be a barrier to the good life.

She said: "Fruit and vegetables can be expensive or are perceived to be, even though it's not always the case.

"But many people have to rely on the supermarket or corner shop, where prices can be higher, and cannot get to greengrocers or markets, where they are often cheaper."

Convincing the children

But a quick glance at the supermarket shelves shows that healthy living need not be a financial drain, even without going to the greengrocers.

FRESH FOOD
Salmon fillets (260g) 2.68
1.34 per serving
New potatoes 59p per kg
10p per serving
Green beans (250g) 74p
22p per serving
Total per serving = 1.66

Two fresh salmon steaks can also be bought for just over 2, cheaper than many individual frozen lasagnes, pizzas and even pre-packed sandwiches.

A 2.5kg bag of potatoes can be purchased for under 1 and a bag of 15 carrots for 55p.

Baked beans can be bought for under 10p a tin to go with a jacket potato.

FAST FOOD
Hot 'n' spicy beef burgers (454g) 1.97 / 99p per serving
Frozen microwave French fries (270g) 1.23
46p per serving
Frozen battered onion rings (454g) 0.93 / 19p per serving
Total per serving = 1.64
Fish is known to be an excellent source of nutrition, and a can of tuna in water can be bought for under 50p. Fruit lovers can get a bag of 10 apples for under 80p, even in supermarkets.

But getting children to settle for a baked potato above pizza and convincing them that greens are not ghastly is another matter altogether.

One which government intervention may struggle to solve.




SEE ALSO:
Junk food advertising ban call
06 Sep 04  |  Education
Pupils choosing unhealthy diets
12 Jul 04  |  Education
Healthy diet 'too expensive'
25 Jun 04  |  Northern Ireland
Q&A: Obesity
26 May 04  |  Medical notes


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