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Monday, 9 December 2013

The cost of eating healthy.

It is a story that has gotten considerable traction.   Eating healthy costs a whole bunch more than unhealthy.  Perhaps it is just conclusion that most of us already knew that attracts attention. That the media have picked up on the story is a strong reflection of social conscious and attention to items that determine health.   The most blatant finding is that somebody went and proved the obvious.  

Or did they?

The stories ranged from lowers costs ranging from $550-$2000 per year.   When discrepancies occur, and perhaps an underlying theme of this blog site, dive for the original article – in this case accessible at BMJ Open.

A meta-analysis of over two dozen studies covering ten countries.  Most of the studies were market value studies looking at shopping list comparisons.   In essence it was a comparison of what additional costs were required to meet a specific “healthy” diet.  Items compared included chicken that was de-skinned versus skin-on.  Healthier snack options such as whole grain or unsaturated fat choices.  Hence the question was not whether one could eat healthy or not, but to choose a healthier option between two items tended to cost more.   

There were broader studies that compared two types of diets such the Mediterranean diet compared to “typical” Western diet.  The study strength was specifically self identified as comparing costs per food group rather than diet patterns in total.

There were marked differences when looking at cost per service, cost per calorie or when looking at specific nutrient components such as fat content. The authors also acknowledge that there is considerable variability amongst the studies. Notable is that if the issue is obtaining calories, cost for a less “nutritious” meal is lower per calorie. 

The study is to be commended for tackling the question of cost of eating well. For someone who is challenged with obtaining sufficient calories, the study likely confirms that they are making the right choice in less nutritious options in favour of calorie-dense foods.   For those with sufficient resources to making choices, there is a cost. 

The average Canadian currently spends about $215 per person per month on food eaten in the home (and yes at $275 each, teenage boys outeat the rest of us – no surprise there) .  Budget experts flag that currently we spend almost an equivalent amount per person per month on eating out.   Suggesting that there may be an easier way for those wanting to choose a healthier diet.

Kudos to the Harvard group for addressing the issue of the cost of food.  The details on linking purchasing behaviour with diet would appear to be far more complex.  

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