The conventional thinking when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet is that the costs are so astronomical that it’s not a viable option for many, after all Whole Foods didn’t get the nickname “Whole Paycheck” for nothing. But until very recently that notion hasn’t been assessed in a rigorous, scientific way according to Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Seeing this discrepancy Dr. Mozaffarian decided to conduct his own overarching study of 27 other studies from 10 different developed nations that looked at retail prices of food based on their degree of healthiness. Across the studies and nations it turned out that the cost difference between eating a healthy diet and and unhealthy diet was only $1.50 a day. The price gap even remained the same when the research was focused only on US food prices.
In an interview with The Salt
Dr. Mozaffarian said that $1.50 was much lower than was expected however it still is a real barrier for some low-income families for whom it would translate to an extra $550 a year. However he argued that from a policy perspective $1.50 is incredibly trivial as it amounts to less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee. It is nothing compared to the billions of dollars that are incurred because of heart disease or diabetes both in health care and lost productivity.
The study was conducted by evaluating the cost of food by types of eating patterns-a Mediterranean diet which is heavy on vegetables, nuts, and fruits against one rich in processed foods and meat. The study also looked at price differences within specific categories such as, grains, proteins, fats, and dairy. The largest price difference were proteins/meats: healthier cuts were on average 29 cents more a serving. Restaurants however were only included in one of the 29 studies and Mozaffarian said more research is needed there.
Josh Wachs of Share Our Strength which teaches low income families who rely on food-assistance programs how to navigate the supermarket to make better choices on a tight budget, said that education can help put healthy food in reach for many more families but subsidies for such education programs is constantly in peril.
However, the study does show that for all of those who aren’t working under supertight budget constraints at the grocery store, the results of the study are eye opening. It is just not an excuse anymore-believing the price stands in the way.