One in 10 people in Ireland are too poor to afford a properly balanced diet, a study has shown.
The unemployed, low-paid workers, people who are ill, disabled or poorly educated, families with more than three children and lone parents are most at risk.
Safefood, the agency which published the research, said that the numbers in danger of food poverty rose by 3% between 2009 and 2010.
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of human health and nutrition at Safefood, said the effects are both short and long term.
“The immediate effects of food poverty range from difficulties in concentration and poor energy levels in children, to wellbeing issues in every day life for adults,” she said.
“The longer-term, public health consequences for those households living in food poverty are ill-health and higher rates of diet-related chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.”
The 10% at risk of food poverty in 2010 is the highest level seen for six years.
Researchers identified three new costs to determine food poverty – not being able to afford a meat or vegetarian equivalent meal every other day; unable to afford a weekly roast dinner or vegetarian equivalent; or a meal has been missed in the last fortnight due to money.
Safefood said that the unemployed are most at risk followed by lone parents, the ill or disabled, large families and low income families.
Previous research commissioned by safefood found that food is often seen as the flexible expense in people’s budgets with costs of rent, heat and fuel often taking priority.
People’s attitude was found to be “put food on the table” regardless of nutritional value.
Jerry Buttimer, chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, said the report was valuable advice.
“Whether in rural towns or urban cities, the experience of food poverty is very real and damaging to the health of children and adults and also impacts on their future prospects,” he said.
“By identifying those most at risk, we can begin to work towards helping those most at need in what is a key health issue.”
Safefood is the all-island body for raising awareness of healthy eating habits. The research was published in the report, 'Measuring Food Poverty In Ireland - The Indicators and Implications', covering the Republic only.
It also used data from the Central Statistics Office survey on income and living conditions.