The Cost of Health

People often excuse away a poor diet by blaming the high cost associated with good-for-you foods, and now there’s growing evidence that narrowing the margin between the prices of junk food and vegetables can actually push consumers to make better choices.

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Supermarket Tug-of-War: A report published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health examined the relationship between the cost of healthy food and the likelihood of choosing it. Researchers found that when the ratio of prices between “good” and “not so good” foods in urban and suburban neighborhoods increased by 14%, the probability of following a conventionally healthy diet was reduced by 24%. In addition, they found that healthy foods cost almost twice as much per serving – on average, 60 cents for healthy choices versus 31 cents for less-nutritious fare. “The price of healthy food, even at its most affordable, was still 50% more expensive than unhealthy food,” notes David Kern, PhD, an adjunct faculty member at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health, who led the study with Amy Auchincloss, PhD. 

Stay in the Black: Buying nonperishable foods like whole grains in bulk and comparison shopping for the best deals on dairy, meats and vegetables are ways to stay on budget, Kern says. Also, don’t allow yourself to be swayed by clever marketing as you are navigating the aisles. “Supermarkets are designed very effectively in getting you to buy what they want you to buy,” Kern says. He recommends planning ahead of time and sticking to your list. “For example, in my supermarket, the bags of dried rice are on the very bottom of the shelf while the instant rice packets (high in sodium and other additives) are right at eye level.” So stick to your list to meet your health goals – and don’t shop on an empty stomach either. Past studies have shown that shopping after snacking or eating a meal means you’ll be you less tempted to buy unhealthy options.

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