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Healthy eating choices out of reach for many Canadians

There’s a danger looming in the aisles of the neighbourhood grocery store: Healthy food is becoming too expensive.

There’s a danger looming in the aisles of the neighbourhood grocery store: Healthy food is becoming too expensive.

And it’s tough to reach for that whole wheat pasta when the regular stuff costs about two dollars less.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation asked volunteers in 66 cities across the country to go shopping last fall. They compared prices and what they found were widely fluctuating costs for healthy items, seemingly without reason.

“It’s clearly a wake-up call for this huge problem when basic, healthy food we’re recommending in the Canada Food Guide is out of reach for many Canadians and there are such discrepancies in the price of food across the country,” said Patty Williams, a professor and a Canada Research Chair in food security and policy change at Mount Saint Vincent University.

In some regions, people are paying up to six times as much for the same food items.

Milk prices in Nova Scotia are among the highest in the country, yet we have dairy farms aplenty. “We’ve done some research into access to milk for lone mothers and it’s a huge issue and oftentimes mothers are going without,” she said.

Even within the province, food prices change between communities: A bunch of green grapes in Amherst will cost $3.24, for example, but Haligonians pay $5.73.

“If people can’t access the healthy foods they need to prevent heart disease, then that’s a big concern for the Heart and Stroke Foundation,” said Elaine Shelton, director of health promotion at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia.

“We’re recommending governments work with the food industry to investigate pricing and promotion practices to better address food pricing and to figure out some of the inconsistencies.”

The foundation also wants the government to monitor and report on the price of core staples.

The only food items that stay at a constant — and low — price seem be unhealthy foods like chips, pop, and cookies.

“It puts the healthy choice out of reach for many people and it makes the unhealthy choice much easier,” Williams said.

“We don’t know why healthy food is more expensive, but we know based on our own research that a healthy, nutritious food basket is out of reach particularly for people on low incomes.”

And with the economy tanking, she said, we can only expect more people will be unable to afford to eat well.

“If we don’t do something about this … it is going to contribute to escalating rates of chronic disease and obesity.”

Representatives from Sobeys and Atlantic Superstore did not respond to interview requests yesterday.

 
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