What’s the cost of a healthy food basket?
Author: Dov Chernichovsky
September 28, 2016
PRESS RELEASE: What’s the cost of a healthy food basket?
A new study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel describes the components of a healthy food basket and its cost to the consumer. The research also examines whether households at different income levels purchase such a basket.
- The monthly expense of a healthy food basket is about NIS 844 for an adult and about NIS 737 for a child.
- The most expensive component in a healthy food basket for an adult is “animal protein and legumes,” representing 40% of the cost of the basket. In contrast, the least expensive component – fats – represents only about 4% of the expense of the basket.
- For households with the lowest incomes, the average monthly spending required for the recommended healthy food basket is actually higher; this is because as average family income declines, the average number of household members increases.
- The average share of spending required to pay for a healthy food basket by a household in the lowest income quintile is 6.6 times higher than that required by a household in the highest quintile (about 44% versus 7% of income respectively).
- Households in the three lowest income quintiles generally do not purchase a healthy food basket, whether due to personal preference or because they cannot afford it.
A new study by Prof. Dov Chernichovsky, chair of the Taub Center Health Policy Program and chair of the National Nutritional Security Council, Janetta Azarieva, Ben Ariyon, Rivka Goldschmit, Avidor Ginsberg, and Ron Milman defines for the first time what comprises a healthy food basket and examines its significance in terms of household budgets. The main elements of the research, which are presented here, show that a large portion of Israeli households do not purchase the recommended basket, whether due to personal preferences for less healthy and cheaper foodstuffs or due to economic considerations that limit their capacity to maintain a balanced, healthy diet.
Adjusting the food basket to a healthier and lower-cost lifestyle
As previous research by the Taub Center has shown, between 2005 and 2011, the price of food in Israel increased substantially. Due to this rise, the majority of food categories became more expensive relative to other countries in the OECD. For example, milk products in Israel were only 6% more expensive in 2005, but were 51% higher in 2011 than the average in the OECD countries. Similarly, bread, grains and baked goods were 19% cheaper than in the OECD in 2005, but rose to a level that was 26% more expensive six years later. Despite the sharp rise in prices, no notable steps have been taken in Israel to define a recommended realistic and healthy food basket that takes household income into consideration.
The Taub Center study presents a basket that reflects the “Israeli food pyramid” according to Ministry of Health recommendations. This basket is based on a Mediterranean diet, which has the advantages in four key dimensions: (1) the health dimension – proper nutrition can prevent disease; (2) the environmental dimension – a diet that is based primarily on vegetarian elements is less harmful to the environment and to animals; (3) the social-cultural dimension – a Mediterranean diet encourages the social and family aspect of eating and family nutrition; (4) the economic dimension – a diet of raw foods is generally less expensive than one composed of processed foods.
Eating healthy – a basic right or a luxury?
The basket is built to ensure proper nutrition and as low an expense as possible considering Israeli dietary patterns. The Taub Center study presents an adult food basket that includes all of the major food groups: grains, vegetables, fruit, milk protein, animal protein, legumes, and fats. The price of the recommended healthy basket is NIS 844 per month for an adult, and NIS 737 for a child (the calculation is done using median prices for products in each category). The most expensive component in the food basket is “animal protein and legumes,” which includes eggs, chicken, meat, and dried legumes. This component comprises about 40% of the total cost of the basket, while grains make up 23% and milk proteins compose 11% of the cost of the basket. The least expensive element in the food basket is fats, whose cost is only 4% of the total.
Demographic data show that as the average income level per family drops, the average number of household members rises – and, as a result, the average monthly expenditure for food is also higher. This means that there are large discrepancies between the cost of a food basket for households at different income levels: for a household in the lowest income decile with an average of 4.37 family members, the average monthly expense of a healthy food basket is NIS 3,450. In contrast, in the highest decile, the average number of household members is 2.46 and the average monthly spending for a healthy food basket is only NIS 2,039.
The research also finds that a household in the lowest income quintile has to spend an average of 44% of its overall net income in order to purchase the recommended healthy food basket. The average household in the highest quintile, though, only needs to spend 7% of its net income to finance the recommended basket. This fact means that, in practice, those in the lowest three income quintiles do not purchase the healthy food basket recommended in this Taub Center study.
In the case of a household in the lowest quintile, with total income of NIS 3,807, the recommended basket costs NIS 3,295, while actual spending on food is NIS 1,462. It is clear that it is unaffordable for the lowest quintile to purchase the recommended basket, and this could well be the reason that in practice, this group buys less healthy, but cheaper food or smaller quantities of the healthier options.
Chernichovsky concludes: “As a rule, as the income level declines, families forego fruit and vegetables in favor of grains and high-fat foods, and they do not actually purchase the healthy food basket.”
The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel is an independent, non-partisan socioeconomic research institute. The Center provides decision-makers and the public with research and findings on some of the most critical issues facing Israel in the areas of education, health, welfare, labor markets and economic policy in order to impact the decision-making process in Israel and to advance the well-being of all Israelis.
For details, or to arrange an interview, please contact Itay Matityahu, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel: 052-290-4678.