• Study: Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options?

    BMJ Open:

    Objective: To conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of prices of healthier versus less healthy foods/diet patterns while accounting for key sources of heterogeneity.

    Data sources: MEDLINE (2000–2011), supplemented with expert consultations and hand reviews of reference lists and related citations.

    Design: Studies reviewed independently and in duplicate were included if reporting mean retail price of foods or diet patterns stratified by healthfulness. We extracted, in duplicate, mean prices and their uncertainties of healthier and less healthy foods/diet patterns and rated the intensity of health differences for each comparison (range 1–10). Prices were adjusted for inflation and the World Bank purchasing power parity, and standardised to the international dollar (defined as US$1) in 2011. Using random effects models, we quantified price differences of healthier versus less healthy options for specific food types, diet patterns and units of price (serving, day and calorie). Statistical heterogeneity was quantified using I2statistics.

    Results: 27 studies from 10 countries met the inclusion criteria. Among food groups, meats/protein had largest price differences: healthier options cost $0.29/serving (95% CI $0.19 to $0.40) and $0.47/200 kcal ($0.42 to $0.53) more than less healthy options. Price differences per serving for healthier versus less healthy foods were smaller among grains ($0.03), dairy (−$0.004), snacks/sweets ($0.12) and fats/oils ($0.02; p<0.05 each) and not significant for soda/juice ($0.11, p=0.64). Comparing extremes (top vs bottom quantile) of food-based diet patterns, healthier diets cost $1.48/day ($1.01 to $1.95) and $1.54/2000 kcal ($1.15 to $1.94) more. Comparing nutrient-based patterns, price per day was not significantly different (top vs bottom quantile: $0.04; p=0.916), whereas price per 2000 kcal was $1.56 ($0.61 to $2.51) more. Adjustment for intensity of differences in healthfulness yielded similar results.

    Conclusions: This meta-analysis provides the best evidence until today of price differences of healthier vs less healthy foods/diet patterns, highlighting the challenges and opportunities for reducing financial barriers to healthy eating.

    I’ve been guilty (as have MANY others) of believing that it costs much, much more to eat healthy. That’s not really the case:

    A healthier diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts cost about $1.50 per day more than a poor diet filled with processed foods, fatty meat, and refined grains, the study showed. The cost difference was greatest for meat: 29 cents per serving and 47 cents per 200 calories more for healthy options.

    The investigators noted that the daily $1.50 price difference totals $550 per year. “For many low-income families, this additional cost represents a genuine barrier to healthy eating,” they wrote. However, they estimated that annual US health care costs linked with unhealthy eating total $393 billion, or $1200 per person.

    $550 a year is not an insignificant amount of money, especially for people at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum. But if you really believe that obesity is driving health care costs through the roof, then it’s actually a good investment.

    Read the full study here.


    • I wonder what the time costs are between healthy/not healthy.

      • Or the materials needed to cook the food. Processed foods generally require just a microwave. Healthy meals usually take a little more, unless of course you’re just eating salad.

        • Oh f. Hard to prepare, my ass.

          Broccoli, 3 minutes in boiling water, drain. Chicken, cook a bunch of legs in the oven (350, one hour), toss the cooked legs in a cheap container in the fridge, microwave to warm, save the drippings to season/fatten other things. White rice takes 20 minutes from boiling water, brown rice takes 40 minutes, both store in the fridge, warm in the microwave, tastes very nice with some of the drippings from that chicken (a little goes a long way).

          I dare you to microwave lettuce, spinach, a banana, or an apple.

          Black beans, start soaking in the morning, cook in the evening with minimal attention (oregano, olive oil, green pepper, onion, garlic — add salt, tomatoes, red wine vinegar after beans are soft), stores in the fridge, warm in the microwave.

          If you need snacks, keep sliced carrots in the fridge, they’re good cold, if you need something more fatty, something that requires fiddling to open (peanuts or sunflower seeds come to mind).

          In all these cases of “stores in the fridge”, I am relatively picky about serving from storage and immediately sticking back in the fridge.

          • Maybe a well organized experience person could spend 20 minutes in the kitchen cooking those items and storing the leftovers. A less organized, inexperienced person could spend an hour because they didn’t know where things were, made a bigger mess to clean up and burned something along the way and thus not have much leftovers to show for it.

            • Broccoli doesn’t even need to be cooked. Cabbage is cheaper and we eat it coleslaw uncooked so we could eat it like they do in Honduras with just a little vinegar. Carrot do not need to be nor does citrus fruit or raisins. You can buy all manor of brad cheap and not cook it.

              The idea that health foods are more expensive could only fly in a wealthy country.

          • Even precooked canned black beans are not expensive. With lentils, no presoaking is necessary. Just boil for about 15 to 20 minutes. The cost of lentils is about a dollar a pound in the cheaper stores. Eggs cost about $2.00 a dozen and they don’t really need to be kept in the refrigerator before being cooked. Egg yoke is an excellent source for choline which is needed for a growing brain.

      • I was wondering the same thing. In general I think it takes more time & effort for me to make dinner now that we’re eating better – I have to measure & chop individual ingredients, say, instead of opening a prepackaged spice packet & dumping it in.

        The other problem I have with healthier eating is that buying more fresh produce is more expensive, AND I tend to lose a fair amount to spoilage. So while I’d like to keep some oranges around to snack on instead of candy or cookies, candy or cookies don’t get moldy if not eaten right away, whereas the oranges might. Or if friends say “hey, let’s go out to dinner tonight” so I don’t get to cook those fresh green beans or make that salad I planned for dinner, those veggies might go bad before I get to them whereas the Rice-a-roni box never goes bad.

        • Eating healthy is as simple as not buttering your potato or rice or corn cob. As simple as a handful of nuts. As simple as gnawing on a cucumber. As simple as not salting your food.

          For every example you can give of a time consuming healthy option I can name an time consuming unhealthy option. And for every example you can give of a quick unhealthy option, I can name a quick healthy option.

          In short: there really is no significant difference in prep time.
          All that’s really needed is a good knowledge of food..(tell me again whey they killed Home Ec in schools??)

          • The Home Ec I had to take had a lot of cookies, which could be made with free agg surplus food and cooked quickly and not much meat and absolutely no fresh veggies. It did not talk about meal planning, or at least not in a way that I noticed.

            If we made a meal, it was Mac and Cheese and cookies. If the school splurged on purchased ingredients, it was for chocolate chips for the cookies, rather than anything that resembled a salad ingredient.

            I presume that’s why it died.

    • So you’re saying that while its more expensive int he short term to eat healthy, it costs more long term due to medical costs? So once again an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?

      So if we then consider that the unhealthiest among us, the highest rates of obesity and diabetes and other diet related health issues…are also the ones witht he lowest incomes…

      …why are Republicans trying so hard to cut food stamps, school lunch programs, and other similar programs?

      In the segments of society that they already complain cost too much money medically to taxpayers…why are they trying to make it harder for those segments to eat and be healthy?

      Surely Republicans wouldnt be trying to intentionally make them fail, so they can then blame them for that failure, failure caused by themselves but by the cuts the Republicans are pushing?

      I mean, that would be dishonest.
      And surely they would never do that….

    • It’s more than a stove vs microwave, it’s also fridge space, access to a car or grocery store, bug-free storage space. Living in a nice single family house with a clean bug-free kitchen and a decent fridge it’s easy to forget that if you’re sharing cramped space with crummy appliances and rodents/bugs the prospect of holding onto fresh food and actually cooking isn’t as easy.

    • If we are talking about in the USA then read the below if we are not then none of this applies:

      The easiest way to eat healthier is to eat less meat. (BTW what evidence is there that some meat is less healthy than other meat?)

      Carrots and other root drops like beets and turnips, cabbage, watermelon, citrus, greens, raisins, whole grain bread are all cheap and do not need to be cooked. Also you can buy cooked peanuts and beans cheap. Chicken is not too expensive for occasional meat.

      It is easy and cheap to eat healthy if you want to. It is cheaper to eat healthy food than so called unhealthy food, besides eating fewer calories is main thing needed for health in the USA and it just means eating less food!

      If you are willing to cook there are lots of things to eat that are cheap and healthy if that is what you are looking for.

      Me father in-law practically lives on beans and rice and he is over 90 years old and still very active.