How food prices affect your dietary choices

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Mississauga, March 21 (CINEWS): Find yourself substituting items on your grocery list for cheaper ones or eliminating certain foods altogether? Feeling the pressure to change your dietary habits because your food budget can’t accommodate the fruits and veggies that you would like to have? You are not alone!
Many Canadians are feeling the pain of the weakening dollar in their stomachs and wallets. For instance, I’ve never paid $7 for a 5lb box of clementine oranges before and had to really talk myself into it. I avoided it for quite a few weeks and bought other fruit instead till I reasoned with myself that we needed the vitamin C in oranges.
Research shows that economic factors have a major impact on an individual’s dietary choices and could significantly affect their nutritional intake. While there has been continual concern over the ability of low income families to afford healthier food, these days the middle-class is also walking out with less-than-healthy choices in their grocery carts.

Now a healthy diet costs even more
We don’t need studies to tell us that a healthier diet is heavier on your pocket. Fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, lean meats and nuts are without a doubt more expensive than those unhealthy processed foods and sugary items that we are told to avoid.
A study referred to in a Harvard Magazine article at the end of 2013 pegged the cost of healthier choices at roughly $1.50 per person per day or about $550 per year i.e. $2,200 for a family of four. At today’s exchange rate that is approximately 700 CAD per month and 3,000 CAD per year. And that does not account for the inflation in our food prices.
Even at the given rate, few Canadian families might be capable of adding $700 to their monthly budget keeping in mind the rising natural gas and electricity prices they have already had to swallow.
In fact even at the time of the study, its senior author Dariush Mozaffarian admitted that while the cost of healthier food might not mean much for higher income families, it would impact 30 to 40% of the American population. Given today’s economic scenario, we could see these numbers rise to close to 50%, at least in Canada. That’s half of us who are unable to afford healthy food!

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Ugly fruit and vegetables in more Canadian grocery stores
Loblaw was one of the first grocery chains to offer ugly or misshapen fruit and vegetables to its customers in Ontario and Quebec last year. The trial run was targeted at shoppers who were looking to save money on the cost of fresh produce and also aimed at curbing food waste. It has since expanded to other provinces including B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Shoppers who opt for these items could expect savings of around 30%.
While we don’t have the numbers on the difference this might have made, when it comes to balancing your grocery budget and your health, few will be unwilling to compromise on the looks of their fruits and veggies.
It would be interesting to see if other grocery retailers follow their lead and could be indicative of consumers now being forced to compromise on the quality of their healthier choices in a bid to cut back on their grocery spend.

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The impact on childhood obesity
Undernutrition is believed to be one of the root causes of the dangerous spike in childhood obesity rates in Canada and across the world. Dieticians and nutritionists explain that ‘undernutrition’ is caused by the absence or lack of nutrition-rich foods and not only starvation as we previously believed. Further, nutrition quality is typically determined by your purchasing power. Parents who are unable to afford healthier choices are more likely to purchase cheap, sugary, starchy, fatty carbohydrates which when consumed in large amounts to satiate hunger increase your risk for obesity and other chronic diseases.
In 2015, the estimated cost of the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) for a reference family of four in Toronto was $195.65 per week, or $847.16 per month. This represented a rise of 1.3% from 2014 and a whopping 18.4% increase since 2010. (The NFB survey tool is used across Ontario to estimate the minimum cost of a healthy diet. The prices of a prescribed list of 67 foods that fit with a basic, healthy diet that is consistent with Canada’s Food Guide are gathered in grocery stores annually.)
As unemployment rises and more families are forced into part time jobs few will be able to absorb the higher cost of food.

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Where your food dollars will go in 2016
According to a report prepared by Food Institute of the University of Guelph Food at the end of 2015, food prices in stores rose by 4.1% which was significantly above inflation. Simply put the average Canadian household likely paid about $325 more for food in 2015.
A lower Canadian dollar was mainly responsible for the sharp rise with fruit and vegetables being the most vulnerable to currency fluctuations since we import almost 81% of what we consume.
The predictions for 2016 didn’t offer any relief. Here are some of the forecasted food inflation rates that could indicate exactly where you might feel the pinch this year:

  • Meats – 2.5% to 4.5%
  • Fish and Seafood – 1.0% to 3.0%
  • Dairy and Eggs – 0.0% to 2.0%
  • Grains – 0.0% to 2.0%
  • Fruits and Nuts – 2.5% to 4.5%
  • Vegetables – 2.0% to 4.0%
  • Restaurants – 1.5% to 3.5%
  • Overall Food Expenditures – + 2.0% to + 4.0%

Interestingly, the report also looked at housing prices as one of the domestic factors that also contributed to a reduced grocery budget. It predicted that with Canadians spending much of their income on shelter (owing to the rising prices of real estate), it was unlikely that they would spend more on food.
So how do we balance our budgets and health? One school of thought says smaller portion sizes and smart shopping. Ugly fruit and vegetables might have their day after all.

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