Eating healthy food costs more money in U.S.

WASHINGTON Thu Aug 4, 2011 11:54am EDT

A worker prepares some of the more than 8,000lbs of locally grown broccoli from a partnership between Farm to School and Healthy School Meals at Marston Middle School in San Diego, California, March 7, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A worker prepares some of the more than 8,000lbs of locally grown broccoli from a partnership between Farm to School and Healthy School Meals at Marston Middle School in San Diego, California, March 7, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eating healthier food can add almost 10 percent to the average American's food bill -- and that is just to boost a single nutrient like potassium.

Researchers from the University of Washington looked at the economic impact of following new U.S. dietary guidelines, which recommend eating more potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D and calcium, and avoiding saturated fat and added sugar.

The diet recommendations try to fight rising rates of obesity in the United States, but the study findings underline some of the obstacles to adopting new habits.

In an article in Health Affairs published on Thursday, the researchers reported that eating more potassium, the most expensive of the four nutrients, can add $380 to the average person's yearly food costs.

Americans spend about $4,000 on food each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At the same time, getting more calories from saturated fat and sugar reduces overall food costs, the study said.

Pablo Monsivais, acting assistant professor at the University of Washington and one of the study's authors, said the government should consider the economic impact of food guidelines.

"We know that dietary guidelines aren't making a bit of difference in what we eat and our health overall," he said. "And I think one missing piece is that they have to be economically relevant."

"They emphasize certain foods without much regard for which ones are more affordable."

More than one-third of children and two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese.

In the study, the authors collected questionnaires on the typical eating habits of 1,123 people in King County, Washington, and calculated how much each diet cost based on retail food prices in three local supermarkets.

However, they did not factor in costs for food bought outside grocery stores, such as fast food -- which would likely increase the food cost for each person.

The study also found that it is more expensive to eat more dietary fiber and vitamin D, and that people with higher average incomes were more likely to eat healthier food.

Monsivais said when talking about eating more fruits and vegetables, the government should also mention the most cut-price options. For examples, bananas and potatoes are the cheapest sources of potassium.

"(Guidelines) should tell people where you get the most bang for your buck," he said. "By putting the economic dimension on dietary guidelines, it would be very helpful for those on the economic margins, but also for everyone ... trying to save money in the current economy."

(Editing by Michele Gershberg and Robert MacMillan)

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Comments (21)
johnrf wrote:
Probably a big reason is that the U.S. government is subsidizing, with our tax dollars, the unhealthy food and claiming that if they stop everyone will starve to death. If they took all the subsidies away from people like Michelle Bachmann and gave 1/2 of them to organic farmers the price of high fructose corn syrup would go up, diabetes would go down, the price of healthy food would go down and we could cut the deficit. But of course that might make Archer Daniels and their cohorts angry after they have bribed so many members of congress, so we can’t do that. And it will also make the tea party mad. Why, who knows, they’re always mad. Sorry kids, enjoy your diabetes…

Aug 04, 2011 12:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
What about how government subsidies towards unhealthy processed foods encourage that create artificially cheap prices encourage consumers to buy them? Why can’t the healthy foods be subsidized to become more affordable? Its more profitable to be unhealthy I guess, which leads to a booming healthcare industry of full sick people encouraged to buy junk. A never ending cycle unless something is done.

Aug 04, 2011 12:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
unskewed wrote:
The short version:
Some speculate that eating healthier meals will cost more. But if you take into account that you would be buying less unhealthy food, it balances out and doesn’t cost that much more in the long run. So, eating healthy costs about the same as not eating healthy. You’re just buying different stuff.

No more fear.

Aug 04, 2011 12:58pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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