Australia's Food Environment Dashboard

Price is one of the most important influences on what foods people choose to buy. Affordability of healthy food is critical to ensuring population health equity, and to addressing food security. Accordingly, it is essential to monitor the cost and affordability of foods, with a focus on the prices of healthy, compared with unhealthy, foods and diets.

Indicator Result Assessment* What was measured? Source

Current spend on unhealthy food and drinks as a proportion of total amount spent on food**

Queensland (2020): 60%
Brisbane (2016): 58%
Sydney (2016): 58%
Canberra (2016): 58%
Rural Victoria (2017): 60%
Greater Melbourne (2019): 60%
Remote Aboriginal communities (2019-20): 62%

Cost of total, healthy and discretionary components of dietary intake reported in the Australian Health Survey 2011-13, for a family of two adults and two children per fortnight.
Compared with ABS ADG Price Index data (1)

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)

Lee, Kane et al. (2020)

Love et al. (2018)

Lee and Lewis (2018)

Greater Melbourne (unpublished)

Cost of a healthy diet relative to the cost of current dietˆ

 

High socioeconomic urban areas

Queensland: 19% less expensive
Sydney: 18% less expensive
Canberra: 18% less expensive

Cost of recommended diet consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines for family of two adults and two children per fortnight, relative to cost of current diet, in different locations

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)

Lee, Lewis, et al. (2020)
Lee, Kane et al. (2020)

Low socioeconomic areas

Queensland: 19% less expensive
Sydney: 16% less expensive
Canberra: 18% less expensive
Rural Victoria: 19% less expensive

Cost of recommended diet consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines for family of two adults and two children per fortnight, relative to cost of current diet, in different locations

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)
Lee, Kane et al. (2020)

Lee, Lewis, et al. (2020)

Love et al. (2018)

Very remote areasˆˆ

Queensland: 24% less expensive
Torres Strait Islands: 17% less expensive
Remote Aboriginal communities: 16% less expensive

Cost of recommended diet consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines for family of two adults and two children per fortnight, relative to cost of current diet, in different locations

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)

Lee, Lewis, et al. (2020)

Summons et al. (2020)
Lee and Lewis (2018)

Cost of healthy diet as a proportion of incomeˆ

 

Low-income groups

Queensland: 27%
Sydney: 26-28%
Canberra: 28%

Cost of recommended diet as a proportion of indicative disposable household income

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)

Lee, Lewis, et al. (2020)
Lee, Kane et al. (2020)

Low-income groups – rural and very remote areasˆˆ

Queensland: 34%
Torres Strait Islands: 36%
Remote Aboriginal communities: 39%

Rural Victoria: 32%

Cost of recommended diet as a proportion of indicative disposable household income

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)
Lee and Lewis (2018)
Summons et al. (2020)

Lee, Lewis, et al. (2020)

Love et al (2018)

Median-income groups

Queensland: 21%

Canberra: 18%

Cost of recommended diet as a proportion of gross median household income

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)

Lee, Lewis, et al. (2020)

Lee, Kane et al. (2020)

Sydney: 32%

Rural Victoria: 30%

Cost of recommended diet as a proportion of gross median household income

Lee, Kane et al. (2020)

Love et al (2018)

Cost of a healthy diet per fortnight for a family of fourˆ

 

High socioeconomic urban areas

Queensland: $628
Sydney: $619
Canberra: $629

 

Cost of recommended diet consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines for family of two adults and two children per fortnight, in different locations

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)
Lee, Kane et al. (2020)

Lee, Lewis, et al (2020)

Low socioeconomic areas

Sydney: $589
Canberra: $626

Queensland: $658

Rural Victoria: $702

 

Cost of recommended diet consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines for family of two adults and two children per fortnight, in different locations

Lee, Kane et al. (2020)

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)

Lee, Lewis, et al (2020)

Love et al. (2018)

Very remote areasˆˆ

Queensland: $813
Very remote communities: $868-$1023

 

Cost of recommended diet consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines for family of two adults and two children per fortnight, in different locations

Lee, Patay et al. (in press)
Lee and Lewis (2018)

Lee, Lewis, et al. (2020)

Summons et al (2020)

Price promotions in supermarkets

 

Average discount on unhealthy versus healthy foods

25.9% vs 15.4%

Weekly online price data for food and beverages from the largest Australian supermarket chain over 1 year (2017-2018)

Riesenberg et al. (2019)

* Green = ‘Promotes health’; Amber = ‘Needs further improvement to promote health’; Red = ‘Unhealthy’. Refer to Indicator Assessment Criteria at the bottom of the page.

** The term ‘unhealthy foods’ refers to discretionary foods. The Australian Dietary Guidelines describes discretionary foods as foods and drinks not necessary to provide the nutrients the body needs, but that may add variety. Many discretionary foods are energy dense and high in saturated fats, added sugars and/or sodium. The recommendations are that discretionary foods can be consumed sometimes in small amounts by those who are physically active, but are not a necessary part of the diet.

ˆ The current diet includes the type and quantity of food and drinks for a reference household of two adults and two children per fortnight, based on intakes reported in the most recent national nutrition survey. The healthy diet reflects the recommendations of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, and comprises the healthy food and drinks commonly consumed in the current diet in optimal quantities. The healthy diet is more equitable and more sustainable than the current diet.

ˆˆ In some of the very remote regions surveyed, local level nutrition policies were in place to increase affordability of healthy foods e.g. community store pricing policies that reduced the price of fresh fruit, vegetables and water.


Key Findings

  • Under current policy settings in Australia, the current (unhealthy) diet is more expensive than the recommended (healthy) diet in all surveyed locations, regardless of the level of disadvantage or remoteness. However, healthy, recommended diets are not affordable for low socioeconomic groups or those living in very remote locations.
  • The costs of both current and recommended diets are highest in very remote areas in Australia. The differential cost of current and healthy, recommended diets is greatest in the very remote areas where store nutrition policies are in place.
  • Households in all socioeconomic and geographical areas are driven by the current food environment to spend the majority of their food budget (around 60%) on unhealthy food and drinks.
  • The increase in household income for welfare dependent families due to the coronavirus economic support package in 2020 meant purchasing a healthy diet became 29% more affordable than previously (2).

Note: To better understand and inform policy action on food price and affordability in Australia, the Healthy Diets Australian Standardised Affordability and Pricing (ASAP) method protocol and online tool were developed to compare the cost, cost differential and affordability of current (unhealthy) and recommended (healthy, more equitable and more sustainable) diets in Australia. The protocol was finalised through collaborative co-design with over 30 key stakeholders at a national diet cost forum in 2016. Unlike many other indicators of the healthiness of food environments, food prices vary by store outlet, location and time, hence summarising results can be challenging. Healthy Diets ASAP has been applied in different geographical and socioeconomic locations at different times.

Recommended (healthy) diet vs current (unhealthy) diet as per the Healthy Diets (ASAP) protocol

 

The current diet includes the type and quantity of food and drinks for a reference household of two adults and two children per fortnight, based on intakes reported in the most recent national nutrition survey. The recommended diet is healthy, more equitable and more sustainable than the current diet. It reflects the recommendations of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, and comprises the healthy food and drinks commonly consumed in the current diet in optimal quantities.


Key Recommendations

  • To improve population diet and health, urgent policy action is needed to increase household income and/or reduce the price of healthy foods, especially in low socioeconomic and very remote areas.
  • Increasing income of welfare dependent and low-income households (e.g. sustaining supplements introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic) would increase the affordability of healthy, equitable and sustainable diets, and hence improve food security, in Australia.
  • In very remote communities, funding of community stores as essential services, and subsidising freight and in-store price of healthy foods, would increase the affordability of healthy, equitable and sustainable diets.
  • More effort is needed to counter the perception that healthy, equitable and sustainable diets are more expensive than unhealthy diets, to help encourage healthier choices.
  • Healthy food and drinks should remain exempt from GST in Australia. Rather than expand the base of the GST, consideration should be given to increasing the GST (eg. from 10% to 20%) on unhealthy food and drinks.
  • Comprehensive monitoring of food environments, including national assessment of diet costs and affordability, is essential to inform and support policy action to improve population diet and reduce the burden of non-communicable disease in Australia.

For more information

Journal Articles

Reports

Indicator Assessment Criteria
Metric

Current spend on unhealthy (discretionary) food and drinks as a proportion of total amount spent on food

< 5%

5-29%

≥ 30%

Cost of a healthy diet relative to the cost of current diet

Recommended (healthy) diet less expensive than current (unhealthy) diet

No difference in price

Recommended (healthy) diet more expensive than current (unhealthy) diet

Cost of healthy diet as a proportion of income*

< 25%

≥ 25-29%

≥ 30%

Average discount on unhealthy (discretionary) versus healthy foods (supermarkets)

No discretionary food and drink price promotions

Price promotions for healthy food > discretionary food

Price promotions for discretionary food > healthy food

*Food stress occurs when diets cost more than 25% of household income; healthy diets are unaffordable when they cost more than 30% of household income (3, 4).

Note: Monitoring absolute costs over time will be adjusted by Consumer Price Index (food).

Sources
(1) Australian Bureau of Statistics. 6401.0 – Consumer Price Index, Australia, Dec 2015 Feature Article: Australian Dietary Guidelines Price Indexes Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics; 2016. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/6401.0Feature%20Article1Dec%202015?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=6401.0&issue=Dec%202015&num=&view=. Accessed 12 Nov 2017.
(2) Lee A, Patay D, Herron L, Parnell-Harrison E, Lewis M. Affordability of current, and healthy, equitable, sustainable diets by socioeconomic status and remoteness in Queensland: Insights into the drivers of food choice. In press.

(3) Ward PR, Verity F, Carter P, Tsourtos G, Coveney J, Wong KC. Food stress in Adelaide: the relationship between low income and the affordability of healthy food. J Environ Public Health. 2013;2013:968078.
(4) Lee AJ, Kane S, Lewis M, Good E, Pollard CM, Landrigan TJ, et al. Healthy diets ASAP – Australian Standardised Affordability and Pricing methods protocol. Nutrition Journal. 2018;17(1):88.