Soaring food prices having a detrimental impact on mental health, Which? finds

Soaring food prices are having a detrimental impact on the mental health of shoppers and families across the UK, new research from Which? has found.

The increased price of everyday groceries has worsened the mental health of one in four (25%) people, according to a new survey from the consumer champion, which also finds that rising food costs are causing a negative impact on sleep, diet and overall physical health.

When it came to mental health, some groups were more affected than others. Three in 10 (30%) women told Which? that their mental health had worsened as a result of soaring food prices. A third of people aged 35 to 54 – those most likely to be parents of young families – said food costs had had a negative impact on their mental health. They were more likely to be negatively affected than those aged 18-35 (27%) and over 55 (18%). One person told Which?: “It’s a black cloud that never goes away” another said; “I’m living day to day”.

The alarming findings come as the price of the weekly shop is set to replace energy bills as the main worry for most households according to Which?’s most recent Consumer Insight tracker- and as MPs prepare to grill supermarket bosses over allegations of profiteering during the cost of living crisis.

The Which? survey also found that a quarter of people (23%) said that rising food prices had hindered their ability to eat a healthy diet. One person told Which?: “I just dread going to the shop. I worry about money as food is so expensive and stress that there is not enough food in the house for the kids to eat and that I cannot afford healthy foods.” Another said: “I’ve cut down on fresh food, I cook less and I eat much worse.”

One in five (22%) people had lost sleep over food costs and another one in five said their physical health had also deteriorated. One person Which? spoke to said they go “days without eating” another said; “I have become vitamin deficient, I’m not healthy or sleeping well and I am suffering from depression.”

With food inflation still stubbornly high, Which? is concerned that consumers’ mental and physical health will continue to suffer without urgent action to alleviate the financial burden. Recent Which? research found everyday family meals like pasta bake, fish fingers and chips and spaghetti bolognese have increased by up to 27 per cent in price over the last 12 months with some essential ingredients doubling during this time.

Elena, a mum of two from Merseyside, told Which? her mental health has suffered because the price of baby formula has increased. Elena told Which?: “My baby has reflux and yet we can’t afford to buy the anti-reflux baby milk. It’s gone up from £11.50 in 2021 to £14. If your body doesn’t produce milk it isn’t a choice – you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for something which is a necessity. Thinking about it brings me to tears. 

“I didn’t have babies until I was as financially stable. We should be doing well but instead we are looking at an uncertain future. We have worked very hard for what we have and I feel so angry that we and other families are not being looked after – our best interests are not being looked after. That all builds and builds and I feel like a pressure cooker waiting to explode.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was right last week to put the focus on supermarkets in looking to help millions of people who are struggling with the soaring cost of their weekly shop. MPs on the Business and Trade Select Committee must seize the opportunity to challenge supermarkets to do more to help when they question grocery bosses in Parliament today (TUES).

While the whole food supply chain affects prices, Which? strongly believes supermarkets could be doing more by ensuring smaller convenience stores stock a range of essential budget lines that support a healthy diet, especially in areas where they are most needed.

Supermarkets also need to commit to clearer unit pricing, especially on promotions and loyalty card offers, so that people can easily work out which products offer the best value. Given the urgency of this cost of living crisis, the government must act now and work with supermarkets to secure these changes that could make a real difference to millions of people struggling to put food on the table.

Sue Davies, Which? Head of Food Policy, said:

“Which? research shows how the sustained stress and worry caused by rising food prices is now having a detrimental impact on people’s mental and physical health. Women and young parents are among the worst affected and some people struggling to feed their children are asking themselves how much more of this they can take.

“Now is the time to act. The government must urgently get supermarkets to commit to stocking essential budget ranges in all their stores, particularly in areas where people are most in need, as well as make pricing much clearer so shoppers can compare prices and find the best value products.”


Notes to editors:

Which? Affordable Food For All Campaign

The consumer champion’s Affordable Food For All campaign calls on supermarkets to do more to ensure own-brand budget line items are widely available throughout all branches – including in smaller ‘convenience’ stores. They should also make pricing and offers more transparent.

Almost 88,000 supporters have signed Which?’s petition so far calling on the supermarkets to take action.

Alongside the University of Leeds Consumer Data Research Centre, Which? has developed the Priority Places For Food Index which shows where in the UK people are the most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Which? Research

Which? surveyed 2,000 adults in the UK between 19th and 23rd May 2023. Fieldwork was carried out online by Opinium and data has been weighted to be representative of the UK population (aged 18+).

Which? food inflation tracker can be found here

Which? Consumer insight tracker which finds food worries over taking money worries here 

Previous Which? research: 

  • 50 UK areas most at risk in the cost of food crisis identified by Which? as it calls for supermarkets to step up – When Which? previously looked at the most at-risk places for food insecurity, it found the Scottish central belt, the Welsh Valleys, North East England, Yorkshire and the West Midlands were among the worst places for accessing affordable food. The research found that overall 95 Westminster constituencies where at least half of neighbourhoods in the constituency were more likely to have trouble easily accessing affordable food.
  • Inconvenient truth: supermarket giants failing to stock budget ranges in smaller stores, Which? Reveals – In a mystery shop of 123 Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco stores, Which? sent researchers to check the availability of a list of around 29 everyday budget items, including dried pasta, tinned tomatoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, minced meat and tinned fish. On average, the biggest supermarket stores had 87 per cent of the products Which? was looking for, or an equivalent product in the same range. However, in small Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local and Morrisons Daily convenience stores, the budget line items on Which?’s list were available less than 1 per cent of the time. 
  • The cost of convenience? That’ll be £800 please – Which? reveals the extra cost of shopping local – Which?’s research found that shoppers buying the same 75 items at Tesco Express, including Anchor Spreadable Butter, a Hovis white bread loaf and own-brand milk would be spending an extra £15.73 on average a week than those shopping online or at a larger Tesco store – £817.91 more over the course of a year.

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

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