“Struggling households are turning to cheaper, fattier food in the wake of the recession, while the quality of produce is plummeting,” is the worrying claim in the Metro newspaper.
The claims are based on the results of a report that looked at how food purchases by UK households changed over the period from 2005 to 2012.
It says real wages have fallen and unemployment has increased since the beginning of the recession, which was caused by the banking crisis of 2008. At the same time, there has been a substantial increase in the price of food.
The researchers found that households have cut the amount they spend on food by reducing the amount of calories bought and spending less per calorie. At the same time, the nutritional quality of the food purchased also fell.
The researchers say this means people may be eating less, but what they are eating tends to be of a poorer quality compared with their previous diet.
Households with young children, single-parent households and pensioners were the hardest hit, cutting the amount spent or the nutritional quality of foods bought the most.
Households were found to have bought 3.6% fewer calories and switched to cheaper calories, spending 5.2% less per calorie. Calories bought were in more calorie-dense foods.
The nutritional quality of food purchased also declined between the periods 2005-7 and 2010-12.
The researchers found there was a switch to less healthy food types, mainly from fresh fruit and vegetables towards processed foods.
However, there was a shift towards healthier food products within some food types – for example, the average saturated fat content of processed food fell.
There were also differences across households. Households with young children cut back on calories purchased more than other household types, and pensioners reduced calories purchased more than non-pensioner households without children.
Pensioners, households with young children and single-parent households had a larger decline in the nutritional quality of the foods they purchased.
When times are hard and money is tight, you are probably not inclined to include organic smoked salmon on your shopping list. But it is still possible to eat a healthy diet on a budget. Useful tips include:
- avoiding shopping on impulse – make a list at home and stick to it
- buying fruit and veg that is in season – produce grown in the UK is usually cheaper than imported goods
- checking the shelf-life – supermarkets often reduce the price of goods near their sell-by date
- looking out for durable bargains, such as two-for-one offers on foods that keep, such as pasta, rice, cereals (choose wholegrain options as they contain more fibre) and tins of pulses or tomatoes
- avoiding pricey ready meals and making your own, especially if you are cooking for a group of people – it is usually a much cheaper option