People using prepayment energy meters consume less fruit and vegetables compared to those using alternative payment methods, according to new research.
The study, by academics at the Universities of East Anglia (UEA) and Reading in the UK, and the University of Macedonia in Greece, explores the role of prepayment meters in the ‘heat-or-eat’ dilemma, a trade-off typically between paying for food or heating.
Households with prepaid meters typically pay more for their energy and the researchers found a strong link between this and lower consumption of fruit and vegetables — on average almost three fewer portions a week compared to those using alternative payment methods, such as direct debit.
The difference in consumption is roughly split between one fewer fruit and two fewer vegetables. The results, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, suggest targeted support for prepayment users may have beneficial effects on people’s fruit and vegetable consumption patterns, and that this could be more effective in protecting women’s health in particular.
Drawing on a sample of more than 24,800 people living in Great Britain, the analysis further reveals that prepayment meter users are not only less likely to meet the World Health Organisation’s recommended ‘5-a-day’, but also more likely to use food banks, which often do not provide fruit and vegetables because of the cost and perishable nature of the goods, as well as demand, with households relying on cold boxes and kettle boxes that either do not need cooking or only need hot water from a kettle.
The researchers say the heat-or-eat dilemma has resurfaced during the ongoing energy price crisis and warn it has the potential to worsen diet quality among the UK population if expenditure on healthy food is traded-off for energy consumption.
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