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How is inflation impacting on healthy eating?

Louisa Moore Consultant 16 June 2022

With consumers being hit by rising costs from all angles, it has become evident that it is not only their pockets that are affected by the cost of living crisis, but also their physical health.

Foods that are not processed or made artificially and have a good nutritional profile are considerably more expensive per calorie than less healthy equivalents. As a result, when it comes to the supermarket aisle, the price currently takes precedent over nutrition; as many consumers begin to cut expenditure.

As inflation continues to rise, less financially stable consumers will continue to struggle and deprioritise a healthy diet to ensure they can maintain a good standard of living.

Due to the current state of UK economic affairs, we have seen declines in the number of Insulated consumers, who are aware but not affected by economic problems (from 24% in Q4 ‘21 to 20% in Q1 ‘22). This has increased the number of Cautious consumers, who are being more careful with their spending (from 43% to 45%), Squeezed consumers, who are taking action to cut expenditure (from 24% to 25%), as well as Sufferers, who have cut all expenditure possible (from 10% to 11%).

Sufferers are least likely to consider their diet as ‘healthy’ at just 24%, compared with 38% for those who are Insulated. Cost is the main driver of this low score amongst sufferers, as 59% claim the cost of healthy food is why they are unhealthier, and 68% of them feel ‘it is difficult to get by on their tight food budget’. Yet amongst Insulated consumers, 66% claim that a ‘lack of willpower is why they are less healthy, demonstrating that for those who have better financial viability, health is to an extent a choice. For those with lower incomes, it is not a choice, but ultimately a sacrifice they must make to save money and compensate for increased outgoings elsewhere.

Consequently, consumers who are less financially stable are more likely to behave in a restrictive manner, with roughly a third of Sufferers cutting out meals (32%), limiting portion sizes (30%), and limiting or cutting out snacks (35%). This highlights the devastating impact of the cost of living crisis, which is not only pushing consumers to unwillingly make unhealthier choices, but also forcing people to cut back on what most would consider bare necessities.

In contrast, those who are Insulated are more likely to be making choices to enhance their diets and lifestyles, rather than restrict them, largely through physical activity. They are significantly more likely than Sufferers and those who are Squeezed to have joined a gym or be exercising more (31% compared with 17% and 19% respectively) and be following an exercise plan (31% compared with 16% and 19% respectively). However, these are additional costs that are somewhat of a luxury, which many who are less financially comfortable cannot afford.

This gap between those with lower and higher incomes, and the increasing number of consumers who find themselves affected by current economic problems, is reflected in the increased use of food banks in the UK. In Q1 2021, 41% of Squeezed consumers and 38% of Sufferers agreed their diet was ‘very healthy’, but both of these scores have since significantly dropped to 33% and 26% respectively, whilst this figure has increased from 44% to 46% for those who are Insulated.

As inflation continues to rise, less financially stable consumers will continue to struggle and deprioritise a healthy diet to ensure they can maintain a good standard of living. This shines a light on how healthier foods, and food in general for the most affected consumers, need to be made more accessible. Consumers should not have to choose between the nutritious option and the cheaper option, and often this is the case, as healthiness translates to a higher price tag in supermarkets.

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