OECD Study: Poor Israelis Eat a Less Healthy Diet

Mahane Yehuda market Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90
A stand at the Machaneh Yehudah market. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Poor families in Israeli eat – poorly. That’s the conclusion of a new OECD study that evaluates the diets of different socioeconomic levels in Israel. According to the study, some 60 percent of Israeli families do not have healthy diets. The lower a family’s income, the less likely they are to eat a healthy diet – with the problem endemic in the lower three-fifths of the income scale.

The study, authored by the Taub Policy Research Center, said that a “healthy shopping basket” consisting of a balance of fruits, vegetables, proteins and acceptable carbohydrates costs NIS 844 per adult per month, and NIS 737 per child. For a family of four, that amounts to NIS 3,295 per month – a rather difficult feat to pull off for families in the bottom fifth of earners, where household incomes average NIS 3,807 per month. As a result, such families spend far less on food – NIS 1,462 per month on average, the study says – naturally buying the cheapest products on the market, which are generally laden with empty calories, a surfeit of carbohydrates, and a lack of fresh fruits.

Aggravating the situation is that in poorer families, the average number of souls is 4.37. In the bottom three-fifths of income earners, families would have to spend 44 percent of their income on healthy food. Among the top 20 percent of earners, meanwhile, incomes are far higher – and family size smaller. In those families, the average number of members is 2.36, so to eat a healthy diet, such families need to spend NIS 2,039, about 20 percent of their monthly income.

According to the study, one reason for this has been a sharp increase in the cost of food in Israel in recent years, especially between 2005 and 2011. At the beginning of that period, for example, dairy products – once considered an inexpensive source of protein affordable to all – were on average 6 percent more expensive in Israel than in other OECD countries, but by 2011, dairy prices were on average 51 percent higher in Israel than the rest of the OECD. Similar increases are cited in the cost of bread, grains and other items.