The report’s authors found that fruit and vegetables had risen in price by up to 91 per cent in real terms between 1990 and 2012, a bigger increase than for other any other food group. “In high income countries over the last 30 years it seems that the cost of healthy items in the diet has risen more than that of less healthy options, thereby encouraging diets that lead to excess weight,” said Steve Wiggins, one of the authors of the report.
In the United Kingdom 68 per cent of men and 61 per cent of women were classed as overweight or obese in 2008, a figure almost as high as in the US and significantly worse than in most European countries.
Mr Wiggins’s team found that in Mexico, where almost 70 per cent of adults are overweight or 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, while in China green vegetables have also become twice as expensive over the past 20 years.
In Korea, the price of cabbage – a common ingredient of traditional dishes such as kimchi – has risen by 60 per cent.
The report does not address the question of why fruit and vegetables have become more expensive, although the authors do offer possible explanations.
Horticulture may well have a “stepped supply function,” the ODI said, so that while small quantities of fruit and vegetables can be supplied at low unit cost, once a particular volume is reached costs rapidly escalate.
It may also be that the changes in quality explain the increased relative prices. Or, it may not be a matter of cost but of increased demand from those consumers who appreciate the health benefits of fruit and vegetables.
Meanwhile, advances in manufacturing, packaging and flavouring are reducing the prices of processed foods.
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