Healthy eating is constantly urged by health officials, but they’re not the ones typically footing the bill.
A new study finds eating a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts costs significantly more than a typical U.S. diet filled with processed foods, meat and refined grains.
Americans would pay approximately $1.50 extra a day — about $550 a year — to eat the way health officials recommend to stave off chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“This would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs,” study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said in a statement.
“On the other hand, this price difference is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets,” he added.
Taking a look at 27 studies from 10 high-income countries — most of the studies focused on the U.S. — Rao and her team compared healthy and less-healthy options you might find in the grocery aisle, using both price per serving and price per 200 calories to make an assessment. One study, for example, pitted whole-grain bread against cheaper and less nutrient-dense white bread.
On average, they discovered, it costs $1.48 more per day to eat healthier.
But while that might not sound like much to many people, for low-income families “an extra $1.50 daily is quite a lot,” Rao says. “It translates to about $550 more per year for one person, and that could be a real barrier to healthy eating.”
For a family of four that works out to an additional $2,200 a year.
America does appear to be proactively making healthier lifestyle choices: The latest CDC findings indicate that childhood obesity rates are falling in many states.
Still, there are ways the government can help, namely by subsidizing healthy foods while taxing unhealthier options, like sugar-rich beverages. “These are evidence-based ways to address the price imbalance and nudge people towards a healthier diet,” adds Rao. “These are strategies our policymakers should be looking at.”