Low household income a key barrier to healthy eating, new study shows

Fresh vegetables

Insufficient household income and inadequate minimum income policies remain a barrier to accessing healthy diets for people across Europe, according to a new study.

The research was carried out by Dr Tim Goedemé of Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention and the Oxford Martin School’s Institute for New Economic Thinking, and Dr Tess Penne of the University of Antwerp.

Published in the journal Food Policy, the paper compares national estimates of the cost of a healthy diet across 24 European cities with net disposable household incomes before and after housing costs.

The key findings are: 

•    In 16 of 24 EU countries, at least 10% of people living in (sub)urban areas experience financial constraints to eat healthily.
•    Income-related food insecurity is especially prevalent in Eastern and Southern Europe.
•    Minimum income policies are often inadequate to secure access to a healthy diet.
•    Food insecurity cannot be separated from the affordability of other essentials.
•    Policies on food insecurity should increase their focus on ensuring adequate incomes.

The authors write: ‘In Europe, food insecurity is still a serious concern for individual and public health. Although progress has been made in reducing undernourishment, other types of malnutrition such as obesity and overweight are on the rise. Policies that aim at improving healthy eating and addressing food insecurity tend to focus on food aid, nutritional education and financial incentives. These policies are generally not targeted at the problem of insufficient income as a key barrier to access a healthy diet. In this paper, we present new evidence which shows that insufficient household income and inadequate minimum income policies constitute a remaining concern for accessing a healthy diet. 

‘Our findings show that policies directed at tackling food insecurity should be embedded in broader economic and social policies that promote an adequate income for all, and limit the cost of other essential goods and services.’