Food poverty affecting 10% of the population as diets hit by recession

Wed, Oct 17, 2012, 01:00

THE NEWS THAT one in 10 people are living in food poverty is a “clarion call for change”, Jerry Buttimer, chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health, said yesterday.

He was speaking as he launched research commissioned by the Department of Social Protection which found a three percentage point increase in food poverty between 2009 and 2010.

The incidence of food poverty has been hovering between 7 and 8 per cent since 2005 but rose to 10 per cent in 2010. When determining food poverty, issues taken into account include the inability to afford a meal with meat – or a vegetarian equivalent – every second day; the inability to afford a roast – or vegetarian equivalent – once a week; and the missing of a meal in the past two weeks due to a lack of money.

Mr Buttimer said it was not good enough, in the 21st century, that 10 per cent of the population was suffering in this way. He said the lack of food, or the right type of food, was affecting children’s concentration, behaviour and learning at school.

For some people, the main priority was to put food on the table. “Nutritional content is often a secondary thought, if indeed it is a thought at all.”

The research was outlined at a conference organised by Safefood, the all-island agency that promotes food safety and healthy eating.

Chief executive Martin Higgins said it was well recognised that people with little money tended to eat less healthily than others but this research would help to identify those groups at most risk and would allow for more targeted interventions.

The research found that those most at risk of food poverty included unemployed people; low-income households; people with disabilities or poor health; people with low education; families with more than three children under 18; and lone parents.

Previous research by Safefood found food was often seen as a “flexible expense” with expenses such as rent and fuel taking priority if money was scarce.

Irish Medical Organisation president Dr Paul McKeown said the fact that 10 per cent of the population was experiencing food poverty was a moral issue.

Poor diet was linked with illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes as well as problems such as low birth weight, dental caries and increased fractures because of a lack of calcium.

The full report Constructing a Food Poverty Indicator for Ireland Using the Survey on Income and Living Conditions is available on welfare.ieor socialinclusion.ie