High number of Israeli households lack healthy diet due to poverty

Households in the three lowest income quintiles generally do not purchase a healthful food basket, whether due to personal preference or because they cannot afford it.

October 2, 2016 07:27
2 minute read.
Poverty Israel

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The monthly expense of a healthful food basket is about NIS 844 for an adult and about NIS 737 for a child, and the most expensive component in such a basket for an adult is animal protein and legumes -- eggs, chicken, meat, and dried legumes representing 40% of the cost of the basket. However, the least expensive component – fats – represents only about 4% of the expense of the basket, according to a new study at Jerusalem’s Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.

The study not only describes the components of a healthful food basket and its cost to the consumer, but also examines whether households at different income levels purchase such a basket. For lowest-income families, the average monthly spending required for the recommended healthy food basket is actually higher because as average family income declines, the average number of household members increases.

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The average share of spending required to pay for a healthful food basket by a household in the lowest income quintile is 6.6 times higher than that required by a household in the highest quintile (about 44% versus 7% of income respectively).

Households in the three lowest income quintiles generally do not purchase a healthful food basket, whether due to personal preference or because they cannot afford it.

The new study by Prof. Dov Chernichovsky, chair of the Taub Center’s Health Policy Program and chair of the National Nutritional Security Council, Janetta Azarieva, Ben Ariyon, Rivka Goldschmit, Avidor Ginsberg, and Ron Milman defines for the first time what comprises a healthful food basket and examines its significance in terms of household budgets.

The main elements of the research show that a large portion of Israeli households do not purchase the recommended basket, whether due to personal preferences for less healthful and cheaper foodstuffs or due to economic considerations that limit their capacity to maintain a balanced, healthy diet.

As previous research by the Taub Center has shown, between 2005 and 2011, the price of food in Israel increased substantially. Due to this rise, the majority of food categories became more expensive relative to other countries in the OECD. For example, milk products in Israel were only 6% more expensive in 2005 but were 51% higher in 2011 than the average in the OECD countries.

Similarly, bread, grains and baked goods were 19% cheaper than in the OECD in 2005, but rose to a level that was 26% more expensive six years later. Despite the sharp rise in prices, no notable steps have been taken in Israel to define a recommended realistic and healthy food basket that takes household income into consideration.

The Taub Center study presents a basket that reflects the “Israel food pyramid” according to Health Ministry recommendations, based on a Mediterranean diet. This diet can prevent disease; is based primarily on vegetarian elements less harmful to the environment and to animals; encourages the social and family aspect of eating and family nutrition; and is generally less expensive than one composed of processed foods.

Chernichovsky concludes: “As a rule, as the income level declines, families forego fruit and vegetables in favor of grains and high-fat foods, and they do not actually purchase the healthful food basket.”

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