A gluten-free diet is unaffordable for most Australian families with some products costing up to 500 per cent more than “regular” foods, says a new study.
The disparity has led to a call for Australia to consider following the UK where people with coeliac disease can obtain affordable gluten-free foods via a prescription from their GP.
“The cost of the food is then equitable everywhere for every family,” University of Wollongong researcher Kelly Lambert told AAP.
The study, in the Dietitians Association of Australia’s journal Nutrition & Dietetics, compared the cost to four family types of a basket of gluten-free healthy food with a traditional healthy food basket.
The four family types were a nuclear family, a single parent family, a single young man and a single elderly woman, all with one person in the household who needed to have a gluten-free diet.
Unaffordable food was defined as costing more than 25 per cent of disposable income and only the single woman’s basket was deemed to be affordable.
The nuclear family spent 40 per cent, the single parent family 30 per cent and the single male on welfare 75 per cent.
The basket purchase price was up to 17 per cent higher than for the regular foods, with gluten-free wraps being 316 per cent and flour 574 per cent more expensive.
Coeliac disease, a gastrointestinal condition managed solely through a lifelong gluten-free diet, affects one in 100 Australians although many are unaware they have the condition.
Typical problems associated with the disease include abdominal pain, bloating, chronic fatigue and headaches, but if left untreated can lead to illnesses such as osteoporosis and cancer.
“The higher cost of the specialised foods they need to manage their condition often impacts on how well they can stick to the diet,” Ms Lambert said.
But she stressed that people should see their GP about being tested for coeliac disease before starting a gluten-free diet.
The cost per 100g of regular and gluten-free items
– Wholemeal bread 20 cents compared to 94 cents
– Raisin bread 57 cents; $1.00
– Wrap 73 cents; $2.30
– Muesli 32 cents; $1.31
– Pasta 13 cents; 64 cents
– Porridge 15 cents; $1.05
– Soy sauce 28 cents; $1.07
– Flour $1.01; $5.68
– Vegemite 96 cents; $1.72