‘Planetary’ diet too costly for many people

A diet meant to improve both human and planetary health would be unaffordable for close to 1.6 billion people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, finds a new study.

Earlier this year, a global team of scientists published guidelines for the first ever ‘planetary’ health diet that address both human and planetary health. It places healthy food consumption within the boundaries of our planet for food production.

A new study has now been published addressing what many critics had argued was one of the main components lacking in the creation of the ‘planetary’ health diet: affordability.

“We found that the global median of the proposed diet would cost $2.84 per day as of 2011. In low-income countries, that amounts to 89.1% of a household’s daily per capita income, which is more than people can actually spend on food,” said development economist and lead author of the study Kalle Hirvonen.

In high-income countries, in contrast, the diet would cost 6.1% of per-capita income, which is often less than what people currently spend on food.

The recommended diet consists of a large amount of vegetables, fruits, whole grain, legumes, nuts and unsaturated oils, some seafood and poultry, and little to no red meat, processed meat, added sugar, refined grains, and starchy vegetables.

As the researchers point out, fruits, vegetables and animal-source foods are often the most expensive components of a healthy diet.

The researchers go on to warn that the estimated figure of 1.58 billion people is in fact a “conservative lower limit” on the total number of people unable to afford the diet.

“The cost of food preparation and of non-food necessities ensure that an even larger number of people cannot afford that kind of healthy diet,” explained corresponding author Will Masters.

The researchers said that better earnings as well as systemic changes to lower food prices are needed to bring healthy and sustainable diets within reach of the world’s poor.

Image credit: Anna Pelzer via Unsplash

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