Many people assert that unhealthy eating habits are the result of economic hardship. They say that healthful food is simply more expensive than unhealthful food. Now, science backs them up.
The most comprehensive study of its kind indicates that yes, unhealthy food is about $1.50 cheaper per day, or about $550 per year, than healthy food.
In a meta-review of 27 studies in 10 countries, researchers publishing in the British Medical Journal found that meats and proteins had the largest price differences, with healthier options costing an average $0.29 more per serving than less healthy options. Other categories such as snacks/sweets and grains also cost more for healthier options, at $0.12 and $0.03 respectively. No significant price differences were seen between healthier and less healthy soda and juices.
The study authors caution that the $1.50 per day conclusion is based on comparing a very healthy diet -- such as one replete with fruits, vegetables and fish -- with a diet full of processed foods, meats and grains. The price difference is thus based on a relatively extreme contrast.
Additionally, while $550 per year is certainly burdensome for many people, that cost figure doesn't include any long-term healthcare costs as a result of eating a poor diet.
"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," Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the study's senior author and associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, said in a press release.
In a recent blog for The Huffington Post, Ellen Gustafson, the co-founder of Food Tank, explained the "true" costs of so-called cheap food.
"Hidden health costs like our global obesity epidemic and the food-related public health issues of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are certainly not included in the cost of your fast food meal," she writes.
With that in mind, $550 doesn't seem like so much money at all.