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Healthy Eating Is Cheaper Than You Think

by Sandy Todd Webster on Feb 11, 2014

Food for Thought

While a healthy diet is now factually proven to cost more than an unhealthy one, the gap between the two is not as great as you might think. In fact, a study published online December 5 in BMJ Open shows that the healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets.

Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 27 existing studies from 10 high-income countries. The studies included price data for individual foods and for healthier vs. less healthy diets. Scientists evaluated differences in prices per serving and per 200 calories for particular types of foods, and in prices per day and per 2,000 calories (the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended average daily calorie intake for adults) for overall diet patterns. Both per-serving and per-calorie costs were assessed because prices can vary depending on the unit of comparison.

The researchers found that healthier diet patterns—for example, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts—cost significantly more than unhealthy diets (for example, those rich in processed foods, meats and refined grains). On average, a day’s worth of the most healthy diet patterns cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.

The study authors suggested that unhealthy diets may cost less because food policies have focused on the production of “inexpensive, high volume” commodities, which has led to “a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities that favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.” Given this reality, they said, creating a similar infrastructure to support production of healthier foods might help increase their availability—and reduce their prices.

“This research provides the most complete picture to-date on true cost differences of healthy diets,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, MPH, DrPH, the study’s senior author and associate professor at HSPH and Harvard approved Medical School. “While healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected. Over the course of a year, $1.50/day more for eating a healthy diet would increase food costs for one person by about $550 per year. This would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs. On the other hand, this price difference is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets.”

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.