The cost of healthy food in rural Victoria
Citation: Palermo CE, Walker KZ, Hill P, McDonald J. The cost of healthy food in rural Victoria. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2008; 8: 1074. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=1074 (Accessed 20 October 2017)
Introduction: The cost of healthy food has been associated previously with the degree of remoteness and socioeconomic status. This study aimed to investigate the factors that influence the cost of food in rural Victoria, Australia. It also aimed to compare the cost of nutritious foods with less healthy foods, and to identify the population sub-groups most vulnerable to economic food insecurity.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of the cost of food was undertaken in 2007 in a convenience sample of 34 supermarkets in rural areas across Victoria using the Victorian Healthy Food Basket (VHFB). The VHFB was designed to meet the nutritional needs of four different family types for a fortnight.
Results: The cost of the VHFB for a ‘typical family’ (2 adults, 2 children) was (mean [interquartile range]) $AU402.81 ($26.36). No association was evident between food cost and remoteness as indicated by the Accessibility/Remoteness Index for Australia (ARIA) score, socioeconomic status as indicated by the Socio-Economic Indices for Areas (SEIFA), population size or density, or distance of the town from the state capital, Melbourne. It was more expensive to purchase the VHFB at an independent store (median cost $406.66 [$29.39]) than at a supermarket chain (median cost $394.93 [$26.64]), p<0.05. Vegetables and legumes were the most expensive component of the VHFB to purchase and this food group showed significantly greater variation in food price than cereals (p<0.05), non-core foods (p<0.05) and unhealthy foods (p<0.001). The median cost of the VHFB was most expensive for a typical family and ‘single parent family’ (40% and 37% of welfare income) and least expensive for a single man (29% of income) and elderly pensioner (19% income).
Conclusions: The VHFB is an effective tool for assessing economic food security for different population groups. The cost of food in rural Victoria varies in a manner that appears unrelated to remoteness, population, socioeconomic status or distance from the metropolitan centre. Purchase of healthy food requires a considerable proportion of welfare income and may thus be unaffordable for some groups. Food cost must be monitored at a national level to provide a knowledge base to inform development of food and nutrition policies for improved population health.
Key words: Australia, healthy foods basket, rural food cost, Victoria.
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