The EAT–Lancet reference diet is unaffordable for an estimated 1.58 billion people around the world, as its cost outpaces the minimum amount required to achieve nutrient adequacy. Latin America and the Caribbean witnesses the highest median cost per day, out of anywhere around the world, at $3.42.
In the first global benchmark diet of its kind “capable of sustaining health and protecting the planet”, The EAT–Lancet Commission was asked to create a universal reference diet in a bid to develop a food system that offers better health for the world’s population.
Using retail price data collected under the International Comparison Program, Hirvonen et al (2019) conducted Affordability of the EAT–Lancet reference diet: a global analysis, to find the varying cost of foods required for healthy and sustainable diets.
The study’s researchers analyzed both food prices and household income data to identify the most affordable foods to meet the EAT–Lancet targets, before comparing the total cost per day of the diet and align it with each country’s mean per capita household income.
From these figures, the researchers could then calculate the number of people that would struggle to embark on and sustain the suggested diet.
Finally, the study then compared local country costs of EAT–Lancet reference diets to the lower-cost foods that, when formed as part of a daily diet, featured sufficient levels of 20 essential nutrients.
Taking all of these considerations and measures into account, the study’s researchers formed the EAT–Lancet reference diet. The study shows that the most affordable EAT–Lancet diets cost a global median of $2.84 per day.
The EAT–Lancet reference diet contains a high number of nutrient-rich foods, namely fruits and vegetables, protein and fats sourced mainly from plant-based foods, unsaturated oils from fish, along with carbohydrates from whole grains.
The diet’s cost is reached by the inclusion of fruit and vegetables, the largest share of the cost at almost a third (31.2%); legumes and nuts (18.7%); meat, eggs, and fish (15.2%); and dairy.
For high income countries around the world, the median cost of $2.84 per day is a minimal percentage of average incomes. Yet, it is not affordable for the world’s poorest populations.
For at least 1.58 billion people globally, the anticipated cost of an an EAT–Lancet diet eclipsed household per capita income. Estimations also show that the diet is unattainable as it is more expensive that the minimum cost needed to reach average nutrient adequacy.
In low-income countries, these reference diets are unaffordable, as research findings show that the cheapest food options in alignment with EAT–Lancet targets would cost almost 90% of the mean per capita household income.
A nutrient-rich diet for all?
The research study shows that, at present, diets vary considerably from EAT–Lancet targets. But, for some countries, the greatest hurdle is the diet’s cost. To follow the diet and achieve these targets, many people would need nutritional support for low-income households, higher earnings and lower market food prices.
The changes required to enable the implementation of the EAT–Lancet diet throughout the world are vast and multifaceted. As well as local and worldwide food systems, increased farm productivity, non-farm earning and social safety nets are required to enable people to afford to shift to more nutritious foods.
Moving forward, ongoing and up to date analysis and data on the costs of healthier foods from key nutritional food groups is needed to impact both “local interventions and systemic changes,” the report states.
In determining the EAT–Lancet reference diet, the Commission anticipated it would be capable of feeding the estimated 10 billion people in the world in 2050 while maintaining planetary boundaries relating to climate change.
However, the cost associated with the EAT–Lancet reference diet remains a key concern as it is based on the healthy foods being both available and affordable for all income groups, and this is unrealistic for low-income populations.
In an effort to enhance dietary intake, the EAT–Lancet Commission urges in favour of a Great Food Transformation: “a substantial change in the structure and function of the global food system so that it operates with different core processes and feedback”.
Reference diet and nutrient adequacy
Overall, cost differences between the EAT–Lancet reference diet and the price of nutrient adequacy emanate from the increased quantity of animal source foods and fruit and vegetables in the EAT–Lancet reference diet than would typically be present to achieve nutrient adequacy alone. On average, the EAT–Lancet reference diets were 60% more expensive than foods required for nutrient adequacy.
To enable lower-income populations to buy sufficient quantities of items, inclusive economic growth is needed for poor households to provide them the opportunity to afford a larger quantity of more nutritious foods. Price and income stability would support targeted investments in nutritional assistance and social safety nets to remove insecurity and malnutrition.
Prompting change to make food accessible
To enable people to opt for a EAT–Lancet diet, a variety of factors, namely nutrition knowledge, time and convenience and acquired tastes and habits, along with societal influences and those outside of the food system, impact dietary intake. As a result, the Great Food Transformation described in the EAT–Lancet Commission urges changes in price and purchasing power, along with multiple social and lifestyle influences.
The EAT–Lancet research calls for extensive and encompassing economic measures that reduce pricing and income limitations to enable people throughout LATAM to follow healthy, nutritious, sustainable and affordable diets.
Source: The Lancet
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/S2214-109X(19)30447-4
“Affordability of the EAT–Lancet reference diet: a global analysis”
Authors: K. Hirvonen, et al.