News

A healthy diet seems to be more expensive than an unhealthy one

January 15, 2014

A new US review reports that the healthiest diets, rich in fruits, vegetables and fish, cost about USD 1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets.

The review, which included price data for individual foods and for the healthier vs. less healthy diets of
27 studies from 10 high-income countries, evaluated the differences in price per serving and per calorie (1). The results showed 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 costs about USD 1.50 more per day than of the least healthy ones.

The researchers commented that people often say healthier foods are more expensive, and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits. While the new findings show that healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected. Over the course of a year, USD 1.50/day more for eating a healthy diet would increase food costs for one person by about USD 550 per year. According to the scientists, this would represent a real burden for some families, and so policies are needed 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.

Recently, a US study reported that well-designed nutrition education programs can lead to healthier food choices among low-income families (2). One of the most important findings from this study was that families want to eat healthy foods, even if they have limited resources. Education efforts that help individuals and families make healthy food choices are clearly an important part of our overall wellbeing, and can make a big difference for families with young children all the way to our senior citizens. The most successful inter- vention used a variety of methods to educate students while engaging parents and caregivers with take- home materials that helped to address concerns about providing healthy foods on a tight budget. In addition, the researchers found that participants aged 60 to 80 who completed take-home activities adopted healthier behaviors and were more engaged in discussions about overcoming the challenges and barriers of purcha- sing, preparing and consuming fruits and vegetables.

References

  1. Rao M. et al. Do Healthier Foods and Diet Patterns Cost More Than Less Healthy Options? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. BMJ Open. Published online December 2013.
  2. Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and Evaluation Study (Wave II). Published online December 2013.