The study, carried out by academics from 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, usually a trade-off between food or Between payments for 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 around three per week – compared to those using alternative payment methods such as direct debit. Fewer parts.
The difference in consumption is roughly split between one less fruit and two less vegetables. results published in the journal social science and medicinesuggest that targeted support for prepayment users may have a beneficial effect on people’s fruit and vegetable consumption patterns, and may be more effective in protecting women’s health in particular.
Analysis on a sample of more than 24,800 people living in Great Britain shows that prepayment meter users are not only less likely to meet the World Health Organisation’s recommended ‘5-a-day’, but also less likely to use food banks. are also more likely to , which often do not provide fruit and vegetables due to demand as well as the cost and perishable nature of the goods, households rely on cold boxes and kettle boxes that either do not require cooking or only Hot water is required from the kettle.
Poor diet quality among prepayment meter users
The heat or eat dilemma has resurfaced during the ongoing energy price crisis, researchers say and warn that diet quality among the UK population could worsen if energy consumption is spent on healthy food. is likely to.
Lead author of the study, Dr Andrew Burlinson, lecturer in energy economics at UEA’s Norwich Business School, said the link between prepayment meters and consumption of fruit and vegetables may seem obvious, but there is little research on individual payments. has been done. ways.
“Most importantly, our findings suggest Prepayment meters potentially play a role in lower levels of fruit and vegetable consumption among more vulnerable householdsDr Burlinson said, “Short-term support is necessary but not sufficient to protect households from future energy price shocks. The UK government must develop strategies that can make a lasting difference to households.
“For example, a new social tariff could eliminate prepaid meter price premiums, bringing prices in line with direct debit customers – a windfall tax on oil and gas companies in the short term and paid for by general taxation in the long term. goes. “
Benefits of eating fruits and vegetables
Despite the low associated risk of morbidity and mortality, according to the National Food Strategy only a quarter of the UK population meets the recommended consumption of fruit and vegetables – an important source of dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins.
To help address this, the study makes four key policy recommendations, including allocating financial support to prepayment meter users through channels most likely to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. For example, public health initiatives such as the Healthy Start scheme or Best Start Foods could be expanded to include vulnerable prepayment meter users.
Targeted support measures are essential as they can increase healthy food choices, particularly fruit and vegetables, for more vulnerable people; It can be seen as a preventable measure from a public health perspective as healthy eating has the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and premature mortality.
“In the medium and long term, governments should increase the installation of energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies, including insulation and solar panels, in the residential sector,” said co-author Dr Apostolos Davilas from the University of Macedonia.
Study co-author Dr Cheri Law at the University of Reading said: “Policy tools aimed at reducing energy demand, while ensuring that energy services are affordable, will not only benefit vulnerable households, including pre-payment meter users, Can help, get an adequate level of energy.
“They may also increase their resilience to future energy price fluctuations, reduce carbon emissions, and consequently have the potential to improve the quality of diets and population health.”
Commenting in light of the research, the national fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) warned that not addressing the issues as soon as possible would result in “continued and unnecessary hardship”.
Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the NEA, said: “With energy bills already at record highs, prepayment meter customers face the toughest choices in the coming months. Topping off is likely.” Simply because they can’t afford it.
“Most worryingly, this new research shows for the first time that prepayment users are unable to feed the meter at the same time as feeding themselves or their families. We know that children face some of the most serious consequences Yes, many will go hungry and cold as the winter months come.
“The UK government must urgently prioritize and deepen support for low-income and vulnerable households this winter and beyond. We especially need to reduce the number of outdated prepayment meters that prevent people from accessing support easily and fixed charges that add up daily, no matter what energy is being used.
“Ultimately, we need to eliminate the staggering energy waste in our leaky homes, which have left us all the more exposed to this energy crisis.”