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This content is taken from the Deakin University & Food & Mood Centre 's online course, Food and Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition. Join the course to learn more.
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Making dietary changes can be a cheaper treatment for improving mental health than other options.

The costs of dietary treatment

It’s a common belief that healthy diets are more expensive.

The perceived high cost is one of the most common barriers to healthy eating. Unfortunately, food marketing encourages this perception and a quick perusal of supermarket shelves will confirm this. Health sells, particularly when it’s wrapped in a shiny and well-promoted dietary fad such as:

  • activated nuts that cost 3 or 4 times more than a standard product
  • healthy foods that are only considered to be so due to marketing; and
  • traditional or healthy diet formulations that are actually highly-processed food products.

Research tells a different story. During the SMILES trial, researchers conducted a detailed cost analysis of 20 participants before and after dietary changes to estimate the affordability of a healthier diet. The result was that the healthy diet actually cost less than the low quality diet.

This estimation showed that before the dietary change, participants spent on average AUD$138 each on food and beverages per week. In contrast, the recommended ModiMed diet cost AUD$112 per week, delivering savings of AUD$26 per week per person.

It’s important to note that the costing was conducted in a metropolitan area of Australia and the results, therefore, may not be applicable to other areas of Australia or the world. Despite this, the results show encouraging outcomes for eating well on a budget.

Two factors ensure that the healthy dietary change is affordable: knowledge and preparation.

Consider the following example:

  • An average price of dinner for one at one of the take-away-type restaurants in a metropolitan area of Australia is approximately AUD$12-$15
  • A home-cooked dinner using the costed recipe (see ‘Downloads’ below) is approximately AUD$3.00 per serve.

Dietary treatment is cost-effective

Both the SMILES trial and the HELFIMED trial conducted economic evaluations of the dietary treatment programs used to support individuals with depression.

Both evaluations demonstrated that, compared to treatment based on social support, dietary treatment was highly cost-effective. In the SMILES trial, on average, there was an approximate AUD$3000 cost saving per participant.

The differences were due to the lower costs of health care, as those in the dietary group had fewer visits to allied and other health professionals. They also lost less time ‘out of role’ (ie domestic duties).

Your task

Take a moment to think about your own food expenses.

You might like to consider any of the following questions to guide your reflection.

  • Does your food budget impact the quality of your diet?
  • Does eating well cost more for you?
  • What are the main factors that determine how much you may spend on food?

Discuss your thoughts with other learners and take time to read comments from your peers to explore different opinions on this topic.

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This article is from the free online course:

Food and Mood : Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition

Deakin University