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The price of vegetables jumps by up to 91% while the cost of some processed foods drops by up to 20%, driving obesity – new report

Press Release

Press release | Embargoed until 11 May 2015 00:01

The price of vegetables jumps by up to 91% while the cost of some processed foods drops by up to 20%, driving obesity – new report

People in newly-rich countries struggle to eat a healthy diet because some common processed foods like cakes and biscuits have become cheaper. At the same time the prices of fruit and vegetables have gone up says new research launched today by leading UK think tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

The ODI study of relative food prices in Brazil, China, Korea and Mexico, - the first of its kind in emerging economies - has found that fruit and vegetables have risen in price by up to 91% between 1990 and 2012, a price hike higher than other any other food group. Some processed foods - like ready meals - have dropped in price by up to 20%.

The ODI report ‘The rising cost of a healthy diet’ compares retail food prices dating back as far as 30 years and finds that the trend is similar in the UK and the USA. In the UK, from 1980 to 2012, the price of an ice cream halved while the price of fresh green vegetables tripled.

Report findings include:

·       In Mexico, where almost 70% of adults are overweight and obese, ready meals have become cheaper and the cost of green vegetables has increased since 1990.

·       In Brazil, where the prevalence of overweight and obese adults has doubled since 1980, crisps, biscuits, energy bars and sugary drinks formulated to be ‘hyper-palatable’ are much more widely eaten than previously.

·       In China green vegetables have become twice as expensive over the last 20 years.

·       In Korea, the price of cabbage – a common ingredient of traditional dishes such as kimchi – has risen by 60%.

·       In the UK since 1980 ice cream prices have fallen by 50%, while fruit and vegetables have gone up by 199%.

“In Brazil, the consumption of ‘ultra-processed’ ready-to-eat food and has risen from 80 kg per person per year in 1999 to around 110 kg per person per year by 2013,” said ODI researcher and co-author of the report Steve Wiggins. “Using the weight of the food as a measure, this is equivalent to each person eating an extra 140 Big Macs a year”, he added. 

Researchers say the rising cost of fruit and vegetables may be due - in part - to cutting-edge technologies that result in higher quality vegetables such as produce that is cut, trimmed, bagged and washed, and available all year round. 

Advances in food manufacturing and falling costs of transport and logistics could explain the drop in prices of some processed foods such as noodles, ice cream, crisps and cookies.

“In January 2014, in an attempt to curb obesity, Mexico introduced taxes on sugary drinks and energy-dense food. Everyone is watching to see what effects these taxes have, as policy-makers in rich and poor countries struggle to respond to the looming health epidemic caused by changing diets,” said Mr. Wiggins.

Across the world an increasing share of the population is overweight and obese, with the rate of increase particularly pronounced in developing countries. No nation, however, has stemmed the tide of people who are overweight and obese.

The report recommends that emerging economy governments consider introducing taxes and subsidies to offset these price changes.

Mr. Wiggins said: “Research in the UK in 2009 predicted that imposing a VAT-style 17.5% tax on less healthy food and using the proceeds to subsidise fruit and vegetables would save between 3,600 and 6,400 premature deaths a year from diet-related disease.

“Even the lower estimate (3,600) is more than twice as many as the amount of people that die on the roads in the UK and a huge effort is put into road safety,” Mr. Wiggins added. 

- ends -

Notes to editors:

-       Inflation across the whole economy has been factored out of all the price comparisons to spotlight specific trends in food budgets.

-       Food price data in this research dates back as far as 1980.

-       Prices were compiled and compared from China, Korea, Mexico and Brazil across the following food groups: staples, processed foods, fats and sugars, fruit and vegetables and meat and dairy.

To read the report or to interview Steve Wiggins please contact Clare Price on +44 7808 791 265 or [email protected]