The High Cost of Cheaper Food

Cape Times (South Africa), October 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

The High Cost of Cheaper Food

BYLINE: Jonathan Crush

Undernutrition is well recognised as a crisis in developing countries, but a second "silent emergency" - obesity - now poses a major threat to public health in countries experiencing rapid urbanisation such as South Africa. While obesity was once associated with rising incomes and industrialised societies, this is no longer the case. Modern urban diets, characterised by cheap carbohydrates and sugar, affect mostly the poor in the context of massive rural-urban migration.

Given the speed of urbanisation and the considerable population growth expected in the cities of the developing world over the coming decades - some three billion by mid-century - the burden of disease related to obesity and undernutrition threatens to overwhelm the capacity of the health care system and other social services in many countries.

Obesity is about far more than simply over-eating. In many urban food markets, the industrial food processing and supply system has replaced traditionally nutritious foods that are still available in many rural areas with nutritionally inferior but energy-dense and cheaper food and drink.

As well as being nutritionally poor, these cheaper foods typically comprise highly refined, low-fibre cereals, fats and sugar. This diet is associated with many non-infectious health conditions and diseases, and the burden is increasingly being carried by the urban poor.

In the urban context, food accessibility and dietary quality are the critical determinants of household and individual nutritional status. A recent baseline food security survey by the African Food Security Urban Network (Afsun) in 11 cities in nine southern African countries showed that three-quarters of households in poor urban areas were food insecure. While less than 10 percent of households reported that they often experienced an absolute shortage of food or often went hungry, many ate smaller or fewer meals a day.

They said they often did not eat their preferred diet, ate food that they did not like and food that lacked diversity. In other words, problems of nutrition in the urban context may be as much about what people can afford to eat as how much they can eat.

In cities, income is a critical determinant of food accessibility. While increases in income do, in general, result in greater spending on food, whether this increased spending improves nutritional status among poorer urban households is a question that has not been adequately addressed and needs further research.

The levels of food processing and convenience foods that prevail in urban food markets mean that greater diversity may not result in improvements in nutritional quality and may even result in a deterioration of nutritional status. There has been a substantial rise in sales of ready-made meals and other processed foods in South Africa's cities and towns in the past decade. Also, supermarkets in low-income urban areas tend to stock less fresh produce than their counterparts in other parts of the city.

Studies have shown that lower-calorie and nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables generally do cost more, and that cost is a barrier to the urban poor. Less healthy versions of particular foodstuffs also tend to cost less. A study of food prices in 14 small towns in the Western Cape, published in the journal Nutrition in 2011, compared the prices of six commonly consumed foods with healthier versions of those foods (for example, wholewheat bread versus white bread).

Healthier foods cost between 10 percent and 60 percent more when compared on a weight basis, and between 30 percent and 110 percent more when compared based on the cost of food energy. For a household of five, the increased expenditure of a healthier diet would be more than R12 000 a year, a high proportion of total household income for most of the population.

While under-weight people are generally malnourished in a developing world context, it is also possible for over-weight and obese people, who rely on a diet of refined carbohydrates, fats and sugar, to be malnourished. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The High Cost of Cheaper Food


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.