New research offers insights into diet choice on the island of Ireland

Over 50% of households not purchasing enough fruit and vegetables 

16 April, 2007. New research has investigated, for the first time and from an all island perspective, those groups within our society at risk of consuming a nutritionally imbalanced diet, therefore compromising their health. ‘Standard of Healthy Living on the island of Ireland’, which was funded by safefood provides a range of insights into the diet choices being made by many groups within society, based on robust economic analysis.

Over 50% of households in the north and south  were found to be purchasing foods that are high in fats and sugars, with low purchasing of fruit and vegetables. This was particularly pronounced among lower income households.

Lower income households spend less on food than higher income families. However, as income increases amongst lower income families, the percentage of expenditure spent on foods high in fats and sugars also increases. This finding indicates that increases in income alone, does not necessarily result in improved diet.

The report concludes that even on an economically vibrant island, such as Ireland, groups within society remain at risk of a poor diet because of inadequate expenditure on healthy foods.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, safefood commented “It is well recognised that eating a nutritious, balanced diet which includes fruit and vegetables, fibre, lean protein and unrefined carbohydrates is a key factor in determining our health and wellbeing. While it has been accepted for some time that those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds eat less healthily, this research provides us with further insights into the choices they are making and the challenges they face.

It is possible to eat a healthy diet on a limited income, but it is challenging, particularly when expenditure on items such as housing and transport are taken into account. Highly processed, cheaper foods are perhaps chosen for their price and their perceived convenience. There are also other limitations, such as the households’ ability to store food, shop in larger quantities and to plan their meals.

What this research indicates is that many on lower incomes are under pressure when it comes to making nutritious choices, therefore running the risk of compromising their health and wellbeing”, she continued.

A multi faceted approach is required to tackle the challenges of healthy eating and the findings of this research have implications for social policy.

safefood’s advice for a sensible approach to healthy eating on a budget, is to buy fresh produce in season, consider frozen, or tinned vegetables. These can often be cheaper than fresh produce, but just as a nutritionally valuable. Smaller cuts of lean meat can also be filling and less expensive.


For further information please contact

Sharon Murphy or Niamh Burdett, WHPR
Tel: 01 6690030
Sharon: 087 608 1316
Niamh: 086 608 6764

Report is available on

Notes to Editors

Other key findings of the research include

  • Rural households spend more on food than urban households. In the Republic of Ireland, rural households spend more on meat, fish and poultry, while urban households spend the most on foods high in fat and sugars.
  • It was also found that both single parent families and married couples with a single child have higher expenditure on food high in fats and sugars, with single adult households spending the most on fruit and vegetables.