CSB Working Paper 19/10: Putting inadequate incomes at the heart of food insecurity. A Study of the financial constraints to access a healthy diet in Europe

08 Nov 2019

In Europe, food insecurity is still a serious concern for individual and public health. Although progress has been made in reducing undernourishment, other types of malnutrition such as obesity are on the rise. Policies that aim at improving healthy eating and addressing food insecurity tend to focus on public education, and financial incentives, such as a sugar tax. These policies start from the assumption that people have sufficient income to eat healthily. In contrast, food assistance through food banks is becoming more and more popular across European countries, suggesting that a significant share of the population experiences financial constraints to access a (healthy) diet. Unfortunately, indicators of food insecurity rarely focus directly on the lack of sufficient income as a driver of food insecurity and unhealthy eating. Therefore, in this paper, we try to assess the role of adequate incomes and minimum income policies in having access to a healthy diet. We make use of estimates of the minimum cost of a healthy diet in 24 European countries, in accordance with national food-based dietary guidelines. Food prices were collected in the capital city of each country during the Spring of 2015. We use these unique data to (1) estimate the proportion of people living in urban areas with insufficient income to access a healthy diet, before and after housing costs, based on representative income survey data (EU-SILC), and, (2) compare the cost of a healthy diet with the level of minimum income schemes for specific household types using microsimulation techniques. We find that in 16 out of 24 countries at least 10% of the population in (sub)urban areas is confronted with income-related food insecurity. Especially in Eastern and Southern Europe a large share of the (sub)urban population is lacking the economic resources needed to have access to a healthy diet. Our findings show that policies directed at tackling food insecurity should be embedded in a broader set of economic and social policies that facilitate the structural realisation of an adequate income.
Working paper authors: Tess Penne and Tim Goedemé
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