That healthy foods cost more has become conventional wisdom, but a new study is the most thorough yet in calculating how much more: about a dollar and a half.
“Before now, we’ve seen studies looking at prices of one or a few foods or diets, in one city and from one store,” said Mayuree Rao. “And the results have been mixed, with some studies finding that the healthier options cost more and some studies finding they don’t.”
Rao is a junior research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and a medical student at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. She led the study that was published in BMJ Open.
Researchers scrutinized data already collected from 27 other studies conducted in 10 high-income countries. The meta-analysis included price data for certain foods and also looked for comparisons and differences between healthy and not-so-healthy diets.
Prices were evaluated according to recommended portion size based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s suggested 2,000 calorie diet.
According to the study, the biggest price difference came from the meat and protein choice; healthier cuts of meat cost an average of 29 cents more than less healthier options.
“Healthier snacks, sweets, grains and fats and oils were also more expensive per serving than less healthy options, but with smaller price differences,” the report’s authors wrote.
The study also noted the price impact of processing food.
“Additional cost of processing and manufacturing could explain some of the identified variation in price differences; for example, lean beef and skinless chicken require more processing, perhaps accounting for their higher price,” the study found.
The researchers also concluded that more needs to be done to lower the price of healthy foods, which would in turn shrink the billions spent on chronic diseases directly related to consuming unhealthy, less expensive food.