Purpose: This study compared habitual (current, unhealthy) diet costs across Australian socioeconomic groups (SEGs), utilising modifications of the Healthy Diets Australian Standardised Affordability and Pricing (HD-ASAP) protocol. Surprisingly, detailed quantitative evidence regarding food group intakes and dietary costs of low SEGs compared to higher SEGs has been lacking.
Method: Dietary recall data reported in the Australian Health Survey National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey 2011-2012 were analysed to describe dietary intake of a reference household of two adults and two children in each SEG quintile (defined by household income). The habitual diet pricing tool of the HD-ASAP protocol was modified to align with these dietary intakes. Food prices from one location were collected and analysed to determine habitual diet costs in each SEG quintile, and the recommended (healthy, equitable, more sustainable) diet cost for the reference household.
Results: Low SEGs reported habitual diets of significantly lower cost than higher SEGs for the household. When the diets were divided into healthy and discretionary (not needed for health and high in saturated fat, added sugar, salt and/or alcohol) components, the cost of reported intakes of healthy foods tended to increase from the lowest to highest SEG quintile for the reference household, but costs of discretionary food intakes were similar across quintiles. Analysis of more granular food group costs shows additional differences between SEGs.
Conclusions: The lower healthy food and total dietary costs in low SEGs compared to higher SEGs, reflecting lower intakes, helps explain the higher rates of diet-related disease experienced in low SEGs. The findings can inform potential policy action to improve food environments and affordability of healthy foods, and therefore help drive healthier diets among low SEGs.