“We experience hunger.” For about a year, since the beginning of the war and the high inflation, the food problem has worsened, says Wolfgang Büscher. He is spokesman for Arche, an association with free offers for children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

In Berlin it is “extreme”, but the problem also exists at the other of the almost 30 locations in Germany. Büscher tells of children who went to school without breakfast and came to the facilities starving. And about mothers who skip lunch so that their children can have a full meal in the evenings.

Long queues for groceries

The queue at the Ark food distribution in Berlin-Hellersdorf is very, very long. 650 families were there recently, 1000 registered for the next time, says Büscher. In particular, the increased prices for staple foods such as bread, flour and oil are challenging. “The families already buy the cheapest of the cheap,” he says. And still it’s not enough. He emphasizes that he is by no means only talking about people with foreign roots.

Even though healthy eating has been an issue for many organizations in this country for decades, price increases have made it even more difficult for people on low incomes to eat a balanced diet. If the price is the decisive factor and you are also under stress, there is a risk, according to the experts, that products that are too sugary, too salty or too greasy will end up on the plate. There is still a lack of current data on this. However, ahead of Healthy Eating Day on Tuesday, experts from science and various organizations are seeing alarm signals.

What should the diet ideally look like? The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) recommends eating a variety of foods, i.e. not eating the same thing every day. According to the ten DGE nutrition rules, fruit and vegetables should be consumed daily: at least five portions. In addition: for example wholemeal bread and daily milk products. Vegetable fats are healthier than animal fats. You only need meat and fish once or twice a week and then not that much of it. You should also be economical with sugar and salt.

EKFZ: Food situation deteriorated due to inflation

The nutritional situation of low-income families in particular has “definitely worsened” due to inflation, says Hans Hauner, Director of the Else Kröner-Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine (EKFZ) at the Technical University of Munich. And the group affected has probably grown since the beginning of the war. Hauner sees signs of a deterioration in the situation, among other things, in reports of declines in the purchase of fruit and vegetables as well as organic food and in the high number of visitors to the food banks.

Hauner also sees his assumption supported by his own surveys on the corona pandemic. This has further exacerbated health inequality in Germany. Lack of exercise and weight gain were not temporary phenomena in all groups. In some cases, negative tendencies have become more entrenched, for example in the case of children from low-income families and children who were already overweight. This threatens to continue in the current crisis.

According to surveys, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) estimates the influence of the pandemic on the nutritional behavior of children and adolescents to be low overall – and in some cases even sees positive effects. For example, more was cooked at home. However, it is said about low-income households that children and young people eat school meals less often, eat fruit less often and drink soft drinks containing sugar more often.

It is unclear how many are affected by food poverty

How many people in Germany are affected by so-called nutritional poverty is not known due to a lack of systematic surveys, says Lena Volk from the Institute for Nutritional Behavior at the Max Rubner Institute (MRI). Those affected are often the unemployed, single parents, families with more than two children, people with low qualifications or people with a migration background, i.e. those generally at risk of poverty. However, it is not just down to the wallet whether people can eat healthily. “The level of education is more important than the financial situation.” Folk means, for example, knowledge about healthy nutrition or about keeping stocks.

“It cannot be said in general how a poor household eats,” says Volk. There is also a time factor: Households that have lived in poverty for a long time tend to eat unfavorably. Because of other time-consuming and energy-consuming problems, the topic is often not a priority. It’s all about saturation. A 2002 study on the nutrition of poor households states: “Health only becomes the focus of attention when a family member falls ill.”

children particularly affected

In addition to older people, the health consequences of food poverty particularly affect children: “People talk about hidden hunger when they lack vitamins and minerals even though they have taken in enough calories,” says Volk. The calories then come from sweet soda or nutrient-poor fast food. One possible consequence is growth disorders. “An unfavorable diet in childhood often persists into adult life.”

Hauner fears that diseases such as obesity and diabetes will have lasting consequences for the health system. “Despite the extreme price increases for food, the state has not acted. It is obvious that with the standard rates, sensible nutrition is hardly possible,” he criticizes. And emphasizes that a VAT exemption for fruit, vegetables and whole grains would still be useful now. Luise Molling from the consumer protection organization Foodwatch calls for the costs of healthy eating to be calculated and included in the standard rate of citizen income.

At the Arche, employees are now experiencing nutrition-related health problems at first hand, as Büscher says. An example is bad teeth. If nothing is done about it, it will make the job search more difficult later. A vicious circle.

In the packages of the Arche, people mainly find non-perishable staple foods, such as bread and preserves. Sure, sweets are good. In the queue in Hellersdorf, a woman from the Ukraine says: Her children would have been most happy about a jar of Nutella.