Lower Prices on Healthy Foods Could Improve Society’s Health

image of fresh produce on the shelves of a grocery storeA healthy diet and regular exercise has always been the best way to maintain not just a healthy body weight, but overall health. Being overweight has been shown to increase the risk of a variety of illnesses and diseases, and there are countless diets, plans, and guides that have been created to help everyday people eat healthier and be more active. But there’s a factor to the obesity problem, particularly in America, that goes unnoticed and that can deter even those with the best plans of action from being able to reach their health goals. That factor is money.

Healthier foods including fresh produce, organic versions of products, and low fat cuts of meat all cost more than their less beneficial counterparts. And for many, it is actually the price barrier which keeps them from being able to access the building blocks for better health. Most people do not notice or think about it but people’s lifestyle habits are directly affected by economics.

Low income families buy more fast food meals, canned or preserved foods, instant meals, and soda than they do healthy alternatives and while most people think this is because these people don’t care about their health the truth of it is they have no choice. They could buy only healthy foods and never have enough to feed their family, or settle for unhealthy options which despite their negative long term effects will at least fill everyone’s stomachs. Similarly, low income families are more likely to work multiple jobs and long hours, leaving them less time and energy to really cook healthy meals. Getting fast food from restaurants will dollar menus and other cheap specials become the regular when no one has the means to cook home meals.

But it doesn’t has to be this way. What if healthier foods were cheaper? If fresh fruit and vegetables cost less than a bag of potato chips then more people would buy them. If organic foods were cheaper than artificial and preservative filled versions, people would choose them instead. While there are plenty of foods that are bad for you that we enjoy and would still buy even if things changed, the reality is that if more people could afford healthier alternatives they would largely buy and eat healthier than they do now.

Extensive research, real world models and experience, and computer models all show this to be true. When given both healthy and unhealthy options and the healthy options are more affordable, the healthy options are what most consumers will buy. Tobacco policies over the years show a measurable decline in people who smoke as the price of tobacco increases, showing that people will buy less of unhealthy things when they are more expensive than healthier options.

close up of a jar filled with american paper moneyHow can healthy foods be made cheaper though? The higher cost of producing organic, fresh, and higher quality foods is what has lead to them being more expensive to begin with. But this could be easily remedied by local, state, or federal taxes put on less nutritious foods and government subsidies provided for healthier alternatives. This would make the price decrease on healthier foods budget neutral, relieving the potential negative impact on lower income families of taxes alone and promoting strong public support as healthy foods have subsidy.

Models predict that a decrease in the cost of fruits of vegetables by just 10 percent with an increase in the cost of soda by 10 percent could lead to 515,000 fewer deaths from heart disease and stroke over 20 years. Such a simple change could impact the future health of the entire populous, a solution to “the obesity epidemic” which starts with our wallets, not our mindsets.

Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.Ph., dean, Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston; Mark Creager, M.D., president, American Heart Association, and director, Heart and Vascular Center, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, N.H.; March 1-4, 2016, presentations, American Heart Association meeting, Phoenix

By Samantha Dillon, DR Vitamin Solutions