“Cheap” Healthy Eating

Posted on January 23, 2014

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By Megan Ververis

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Scientists at Harvard School of Public Health recently completed a comprehensive study that found that healthy diets only cost more than $1.50 per day than unhealthy diets. The team compared diets that comprised of 2,000 calories each day: the healthier fare included vegetables, fruits and fish, while the unhealthy diet contained processed meals and snacks.

While the research team expected for healthier food to be more expensive, but they were shocked that eating clean only cost an extra $1.50 each day. This study is monumental in the effort to encourage Americans to eat healthier diets. It is has long been established that diets rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat diary and lean meats are directly causal to a longer, healthier life. Additionally, countless studies have found that long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, fast food and trans fats directly leads to greater risk of heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and dementia. Most argue that spending a little more money each day on healthier food is more economical than paying the medical bills down the line.

However, you might be wondering exactly how much an extra $1.50 is each day for a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains: it totals out to be an additional $550 a person. So, for a family of four—a healthier household diet would cost a whopping extra $2,200 each year.

The authors of the study admit that although healthcare practitioners recommend a healthier diet and the cost is less than what most assume, the added expense may not be feasible for many families. Last year, 19.1% of Memphis’ population is under the poverty line and the unemployment rate in the metro area is 11.8%, which makes it hard to believe that this study could be applicable to many Memphian families. The reality is that America’s food industry does not favor our health. Today’s food policies support inexpensive, but high volume, cheap production, and support easily manufactured and processed foods that provide more profit per unit for the food industry. Basically, low production costs ensure Americans stay unhealthy while keeping the corporations wealthy. The Harvard Medical school professor and senior study author, Dariush Mozaffarian, agrees, saying that an extra $550 per person “would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs.”

Sections of Memphis contain many of the country’s worst food deserts—which are areas without access to fresh, healthy food, and without a supermarket within one mile. The authors of the Harvard study suggest that the policy changes that make healthy foods more economical to produce are necessary as a long-term solution. Until then, it is important to support local food businesses, including the Memphis Farmer’s Market, the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market, and local restaurants, as well as efforts to eradicate Memphis’ food deserts—check out The Green Machine, a mobile produce market that aims to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods with little or no access to fresh produce in Memphis.

The lack of healthy, fresh food to the many Memphis people does not have a clear solution, but many are hopeful that policy changes and support of local efforts can soon make fresh produce attainable to all. With this, healthier food can be more accessible, and health care costs for chronic diseases will drop as well.

Megan Ververis is a senior Neuroscience major at Rhodes College and emergency department medical scribe.

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Posted in: Health