University of Washington Conducts Expensive Study, Discovers Junk Food Is Cheaper Than Healthy Food

A paper recently published in the Health Affairs professional journal suggests that eating healthy foods costs more than eating unhealthy foods.

Gee, thanks, Captain Obvious!

The paper, by Pablo Monsivais, Anju Aggarwal and Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington and based on a survey of 2,001 people conducted after the publication of the government's new food-plate diagram, said that the biggest costs come from increasing one's intake of vitamins and fiber to the suggested levels, and that it could add hundreds of dollars to the average American's food bill to comply.

I agree that the government's plate imagery is out of reach for the average American, especially the initial version that had the fish on the side--how many people in rural North Dakota does the government think are sitting down to salmon?--but the issue is deeper than the undisputed fact that empty calories are cheaper.

It's a bit like giving a young child the choice between five pennies or one quarter. Five is more than one, thus they choose the pennies. In this case, it's possible to buy a huge quantity of unhealthy, sugar- and fat-laden food, even though it is not as nutritious as a smaller quantity of something else. The effect can best be seen in restaurants: if the plate isn't full, even if the amount of food on it is enough for a meal, Americans complain. It's a big part of why portion sizes have ballooned so much over the last forty years.

The problem is exacerbated by over-packed schedules. It's faster to grab packaged food--or, worse, the drive-through--between one family member's yoga class and another's school play rehearsal, and the result is that Americans are losing the knack of cooking.

It is possible to construct a healthy meal--or a set of them--without blowing the budget out of the water, but in order to do that, people in the U.S. will have to commit to cooking food at home and--horror of horrors--eating a diet that is mostly vegetables, whether fresh or frozen. Unfortunately, short of an invasion of personal freedom that would give armchair libertarians a collective cardiac infarction, there's not much the U.S. government can do to force the issue. Maybe they should start by fixing the school nutrition guidelines to focus on health, and declare that no, ketchup is actually not a vegetable.

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