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Considering there are so many coupons for snacks, processed foods and things you can’t even eat, it’s no surprise to hear people complain that it’s hard to save money on healthy food. Now, a new study is putting a price tag on eating well. Making healthier choices at the grocery store, researchers have found, could add more than $2,000 to your family’s grocery bill each year.

That comes as no surprise, if you’ve ever compared the typical prices of junk food and fresh produce, or carbonated drinks and a gallon of milk. But that’s like comparing apples and oranges (or, more appropriately, apples and artificially orange-hued cheese-flavored snack products).

The aforementioned study, newly published in the British Medical Journal Open, aims to compare apples to apples – by considering prices of typical products and their healthier alternatives in the same category. So the researchers compare prices of whole milk with skim milk, for example, or lean meat with its fattier alternative.

What they found, simply stated, was that healthier food costs more. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts cost an average of 57 cents more per serving than chicken drumsticks. Juice that meets Nutrition Directives criteria costs 71 cents more per serving than juice that doesn’t.

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In all, they conclude that choosing healthier options across the board costs an additional $1.48 per person per day – that’s $540 a year, or $2,160 for a family of four.

So is this the result of some kind of conspiracy, to encourage us to eat junk, and line the pockets of the corporations that peddle it? Not necessarily. The simple answer, the researchers acknowledge, is that sometimes healthier food costs more, because it costs more to produce. “For example, lean beef and skinless chicken require more processing, perhaps accounting for their higher price,” they write.

What can be done, then? The researchers have a couple of suggestions. Try making healthier foods less expensive, they propose. “Lowering the price of healthier diet patterns,” they recommend, “should be a goal of public health and policy efforts.”

And if that doesn’t work, try raising the prices of unhealthier foods. “Taxation of less healthy foods and subsidies for healthier foods would also be an evidence-based intervention to balance price differences,” the researchers offer.

But there’s a third option, one that doesn’t involve government-run social engineering programs – if we take some personal responsibility for our own health, we’ll all wind up better off in the end. Yes, $1.48 per day can really add up, the researchers note. But “this daily price difference is trivial in comparison with the lifetime personal and societal financial burdens of diet-related chronic diseases.” Over the long haul, they find, diet-related health care costs work out to more than $1,200 per American per year. That’s more than $4,800 a year for a family of four – much more than the $2,160 that eating healthy costs.

So, despite the immediate out-of-pocket costs of buying healthier foods, doing so could ultimately save you more than $2,000 a year. Think about that the next time you’re trying to decide between a bag of chips you can get for nearly nothing by combining a sale and a coupon, and a bag of baby carrots that never seems to go on sale. You may be paying more now – but at least you won’t be paying the price later.

photo by: Roebot

2 Comments

  1. Any study that uses its findings to recommend government intervention is suspect, as far as I’m concerned. Looking at the actual study, from the link you provided, I could find no legible information about their so-called “apples to apples” comparisons. Comparing chicken legs to boneless skinless breasts, as you indicated in your article, instead of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, it appears that the people conducting the study were looking to pump up the numbers. And, last time I checked, an apple or orange cost less than a bag of chips, and soft drinks cost a lot more than water from my tap. Just another example of one-world-government bureaucratic propaganda.

    • I’m not sure if the people who conduct these studies are predisposed to advocate for government involvement, or if they can’t think of a more creative solution to a problem than “there oughta be a law!” Because it certainly does seem that that’s the “solution” they come up with, more often than not.

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