SYDNEYŚLow-income families living in rural areas have to fork out more than half their income on food if they want to maintain a healthy diet, a survey shows.
The study of food prices across NSW found huge regional disparities in the cost of feeding a family, with rural areas hit hardest in terms of affordability, quality and availability of fruit and vegetables.
A two-week healthy food basket for a family of six was the cheapest in Blaxland in the Blue Mountains, costing just $337, according to the Cancer Council NSW study.
In the most expensive town, Murrurundi in the Hunter region, residents pay $520, or 50 per cent more, for the same selection.
Cancer Council NSW nutritionist Kathy Chapman said the costs were a lot to bear for poorer families, who now have to spend 56 per cent of their household budget on average to maintain a healthy diet.
The figure was well above the 22 per cent spent by a family on an average income.
"A healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight is proven to be one of the biggest lifestyle choices in preventing cancer," Ms Chapman said.
"Unfortunately, if you are on a low income and live in a remote area of NSW, then it is much harder to have a healthy diet."
The Healthy Food Basket Survey, the most extensive survey of its kind in Australia, also found that the cost of a healthy food basket varied within metropolitan and regional areas.
Even within Sydney there was a difference of $150 between the cheapest and the most expensive healthy food baskets, the study showed.
"Price differences within the same region indicate there's more than transport overheads influencing the cost of a healthy food basket," Ms Chapman said.
"We urge the government to regularly monitor the price of food as it does with other commodities like petrol, to ensure all families can afford a healthy basket of food."
The study shows that an individual can meet their daily dietary recommendations of two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables for as little as $2.58 per day.
The Cancer Council recommends savvy shoppers pick cost-effective fruits and vegetables like bananas, oranges, beans, carrots, sweet potato, broccoli and cauliflower, and other produce that is in season.