Today’s online landscape boasts a plethora of guides, top tips and meal plans promising to make healthy eating an easy habit. Even since our school days, we have been frequently reminded that fruits and vegetables are must-have basics, while saturated fat and sugar should be avoided. With the abundance of information available, it appears that the difficulties of healthy eating shouldn’t come from a lack of knowledge. So why is it such a challenge?
First, why is a healthy diet important? Eating healthy lowers the risk of many non-communicable diseases. People with diets rich in fruits and vegetables, for example, have lower risks of stroke, certain cancers and heart disease (the leading cause of death worldwide). A diet rich in calcium keeps teeth and bones strong. Limiting salt intake prevents hypertension and reduces the risk of stroke.
Perhaps the most noticeable factor that has impacted food choices is availability. The rise of fast-food, tempting marketing strategies and the increased availability of processed foods in local supermarkets have oftentimes made eating healthy an unappetizing choice. Our increasingly busy lifestyles have resulted in an avoidance of cooking healthy meals due to how much more time they require than grabbing some fast food. When choosing to dine out, careful searching is required to find healthy options that are local.
Price can also be a barrier to healthy eating. Those on low incomes may be more inclined to buy calorie-dense foods instead of opting for a healthier option because they keep you full for longer. Low-income households tend to have more limited access to fresh, healthy foods whereas junk food may be more readily available. For too many, the switch to healthy eating may seem unaffordable, whether that be the travel to supermarkets or inadequate kitchen facilities for fresh produce storage.
Individual changes we make to our diet will always be impactful, but on a wider scale, there is still work to be done to narrow health inequalities that exist. Clamping down on the advertising of products that are high in fat, sugar and salt, particularly towards younger audiences as well as incentivising supermarkets to make healthier options more obtainable are both routes to be considered.
Making healthy eating accessible to families in all areas will really play a role in lowering the risk of chronic diseases. A failure to take the appropriate steps now to encourage healthy eating will lead to our health systems ultimately bearing the brunt.