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UK food spend down 8.5%

04 November 2013

New research reveals that the recession has resulted in a reduction of UK real food expenditure by 8.5%. 

Two Institute for Fiscal Studies analyses, presented at the Festival of Social Science, highlighted changing buying patterns since the start of the economic downturn in 2008 are also affected by the trend to cut calories. This has involved UK consumers buying more energy rich forms of food, while cutting spend on fruit and vegetables – and an increase in processed foods.

More sugar and saturated fat is being purchased and summary measures of nutritional quality have declined. 

According to one report, these trends appear to be concentrated on families with children and have continued – and if anything, accelerated – after the technical recession ended in 2009. Kate Smith, one of the authors, said families had responded to squeezed incomes by switching to cheaper calories. "This has coincided with a fall in the nutritional quality of foods purchased," she said.

Martin O'Connell, another author, added: "Links between food purchases and diet-related health problems such as obesity are complex. Understanding these links involves considering other aspects of people's lifestyles and the influence of economic conditions on people's decision making."

A second study analyses more than 30 years of official data on England and confirms that spending on soft drinks, eating out and snack food have all increased over that time. However, the average total number of calories being purchased has declined. The implication is that rising rates of obesity are better explained by declining levels of physical activity, rather than overeating.

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