Can You Afford to Eat Right?

There may be one reason why many Americans aren’t eating healthy that has nothing to do with will power or flavor: it’s too expensive.

Millions of Americans simply can’t afford to eat healthy, according to researchers at the University of Washington in the first study of its kind.

They compared prices of healthy foods (rich in nutrients and low in calories, such as fresh vegetables, fish, lean meats and whole grains) with high-calorie junk foods.

They found that prices for healthy food jumped nearly 20 percent over a two-year period, compared to a modest 5 percent increase in the overall food price inflation. Prices of high-calorie foods, meanwhile, remained about the same, and in some cases even dropped.

Why are healthy food prices so high?

Everything from agricultural policies to farm subsidies to the rising cost of energy have been blamed, but the researchers believe sugar — which is cheap and high in empty calories — gets top billing.

However, even foods that are currently cheap are expected to rise dramatically in price in the near future, the researchers said. They pointed to three things they believe people will need to eat well in the future: education, money and time.

“If you have all three, you’re home free. If you have two out of three, you can manage. But if you have only one out of the three, or zero of the three, you are pretty much screwed. And a lot of low-income people have zero out of three,” said study author Adam Drewnowsky, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington.

ABC News December 19, 2007
Journal of the American Dietetic Association, December 2007, Volume 107, Issue 12, Pages 2071-2076

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