The Seattle Times today highlights a new study from the UW School of Public Health showing healthy food is too expensive for many Americans:
“People who ate the most junk food paid the least for groceries but were the furthest from meeting the recommended intake of healthful nutrients. They also exceeded the recommended levels of saturated fat and sugars, which have been linked to chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Those who spent the most on groceries ate the healthiest, coming closest to meeting the dietary guidelines.”
That matches up with trends we’ve written about in the past: since about 1985, the price of fruits and vegetables has gone up much, much faster than the price of sugars and sweeteners.
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So, what are we to do? Mark Bittman, food writer for the New York Times, recently called for taxing unhealthy foods and using the revenue to subsidize nutritious ones. I think it’s a compelling idea that probably deserves more research.
Yet there’s no guarantee that a tax/subsidy combo would actually cut down on empty calories. One recent study found that subsidies for healthy foods didn’t induce shoppers to buy more fruits and vegetables; instead, they used the savings on fruits and vegetables to pay for more junk. Taxing empty calories would probably help curb that. But still, plenty of studies show people just don’t do what you’d expect when you give them incentives to eat healthfully.
In the end, there’s no single recipe for encouraging healthful eating. Prices can help steer the decisions of cost-sensitive shoppers, but that doesn’t stop junk food from being addictive. Education—particularly about which healthy foods offer the best bang for your buck—can also help people make better decisions. Even marketing might be part of the solution.
What is clear from this new study is that low prices for junk food are leading to bad diets, and that it’s falling hardest on low-income folks who are less likely to have health insurance to cover the later costs of obesity. We put restrictions on cigarettes and alcohol; maybe it’s time to treat unhealthy food like the public health crisis it is.
An organic pear should not be a luxury good…
Local and organic produce is often more expensive because conventional preservatives/chemicals are not used (according to organic standards), and higher rates of spoilage lead to higher prices.
This is why we need simple, natural, inexpensive ways to reduce spoilage, like what Fenugreen (www.fenugreen.com) is doing in Boston. Fenugreen’s FreshPaper is an all-natural, biodegradable, solution to the massive yet often overlooked global challenge of food spoilage (25% of the world’s food supply is lost to spoilage each year), a new technology based on a grandmother’s home remedy.
As a poor person, I really understand this. But recent events have taught me that I cannot afford to do anything else. It’s a matter of life and death for me. I have to make whatever room it takes in the budget in order to eat healthy, even if that means eating less overall. It shouldn’t be this way.
I think that a tax on the junk food should be given right back to shoppers in the form of coupons in the produce department for some significant amount off the purchase of organic fruits and veggies. Then the store could mail these in, as they do other coupons, for reimbursement from the agency in charge of the program. The grocer doesn’t lose out and probably makes more sales of produce because of the presence of the coupons, the consumer saves money and eats more healthfully, the organic farmers’ sales increase, and the environment wins out, too.
Georgie Bright Kunkel
We need to get back to growing food closer to home.
Agribusinss has shot up the price of food tremendously.
I am going to be 91 years old next week and I take no
medications except for an occational acetaminofen and yet
my supplements and so called organic foods really cost me. Add to that extra vitamins, calcium with D,
extra vitamin D and E, alphalipoic acid and omega 3 etc. etc.and you have an expensive food bill.
Agribusiness with marketing and transportation of foods puts an added cost on everthing that we eat. We need to decentralize and encourage city gardens whereever there is a space.
Cities are very expensive living spaces. Transportation costs more and food availability costs more. It prices some people out of living healthfully.
Happy early birthday Georgie! And thanks for your thoughts on this.