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The Cost of Health: Is Health Food More Expensive Than Junk Food?


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In the New York Times article, "A High Price for Healthy Food", the cost of 370 different food items were compared. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, found that foods containing a dense amount of calories to be cheaper than items that were nutritious, yet low in calories. The study even showed snack foods, dense in calories, averaged around $2 for 1,000 calories (half the recommended daily calorie intake). However, in low calorie dense, more nutritious foods such as vegetables, the average cost came to $18. For low income customers, this price discrepancy is likely to lead them to choose foods dense in calories. These foods tend to have less nutritional value; it typically requires more of this type of food to satisfy hunger. Rather than choosing vegetables or fruits, the customer with the tight budget might be tempted to go with the cheaper, unhealthy item choices.

The studies summarized in “Healthy Food Costs vs. Unhealthy Food Costs,” published by, also suggests unhealthy food choices are more economically beneficial than healthy choices. One study says that since 1983, the price of fruit and vegetables increased almost 200%. In contrast, the cost of sweet food has only increased in price by 65%. These price increases over the years show how the price of healthy foods is increasing more rapidly than unhealthy food choices.

However, there are some studies suggesting that healthy eating is not necessarily more expensive than eating unhealthy food. Nanci Hellmich's article in, “Healthy food no more costly than junk food, government finds,” states that the previous studies comparing only price and calorie density are not necessarily a fair comparison. Whole and skim milk usually cost the same; this is also true for regular yogurt and low fat or fat free yogurt of the same brand. Customers requiring a higher or lower calorie intake can both purchase milk and yogurt meeting their dietary needs for the same price. It is true that half a cup of broccoli has only 27 calories, while a one ounce potato chip bag has 154 calories. Nevertheless, the average customer devotes 20 or 25 percent of their food budget to fruits and vegetables in contrast to the recommended 40 percent.

Also, some customers eat twice the recommended amount of foods such as chicken. With both healthy and unhealthy foods, there are cheap and expensive options. For example, a customer choosing to eat lobster and sushi over beef and chicken will be paying more for their food, just as a customer choosing to higher end frozen foods will be paying more than those who order from the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant. Customers can find healthy options to meet their needs at a lower prices. Additionally, there are items such as soft drinks that have no nutritional or health benefits. In order to be able to spend more money on healthier options, customers can eliminate these non beneficial items from their purchases. When customers focus on purchasing healthy, cost effective items such as rice, beans, and eggs—and eliminating unnecessary, unhealthy food options, they will be empowered to purchase healthy foods at the same price as unhealthy foods. As well as being able to purchase cost effective foods, there are also additional costs for customers who chose to purchase foods that are not healthy.

Dr, Mark Hyman's blog “Why Eating Quick, Cheap Food is Actually More Expensive” shares that 118 billion dollars are spent annually on health care for reasons related to obesity, and that generally, an obese person ends up visiting a doctor 40% more than a normal weight person. These extraordinary numbers point to the fact that customers who do chose unhealthy choices end up paying more in the long run in terms of medical bills.

While some studies suggest healthy food choices are more expensive, others suggest that the cost is equal. Regardless, customers need to think of the hidden cost behind the price of their food. Over the years, making unhealthy eating choices can result in a decreased quality of life and increased medical bills. Making healthy food choices can both increase the quality of life, and reduce the number of future medical complications. Customers who evaluate the true costs of their dietary choices, will be enabled to make knowledgeable decisions that will benefit them in the long run. They can not only choose to eat economic, healthy items, but they can also improve their future by knowing the true cost of their purchases.


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