What Is the Real Cost of Food?

Did you know that on average, it costs $150 more per day for you to eat a healthier diet? Eating healthy isn’t cheap – but eating cheaply certainly isn’t healthy. Among the leading factors of death in our country is suboptimal diet quality, and an article I found on ‘The Real Cost of Food’ really made me think… How do we get people to eat better?

The article suggests a new strategy to help prioritize diet quality, and zeroes in on how we can use taxes and subsidies to do so. Simply put, the strategy would use taxation to reduce our selection of unhealthy foods, while using subsidies to increase our selection of healthier foods. This pricing strategy would help promote a healthier diet while helping us shift away our less desirable eating patterns – killing two birds with one stone.

But eating healthy isn’t so affordable, is it? We know that buying better quality food is more expensive. As the study points out, however, this system could actually help the cost of such food decrease over time for many people if they continued to make those healthier choices.

While other tax proposals have tried to tax only a few products, such as sweetened drinks, a better option might be to impose a meaningful tax on most packaged retail foods and chain restaurants, too – using the proceeds to subsidize those foods that are healthier and more minimally processed.

Ultimately, the goal of using this system would be to help improve overall dietary patterns – not just cutting your calories. More and more evidence is shedding light on the fact that a larger emphasis on diet quality could be more beneficial when targeting health concerns like chronic disease, which is a big problem in the US right now. Some interventions have been made before, and they already showed a significant reduction in the rates of chronic disease as well as in the levels of cardio-metabolic risk factors… So we know it’s a good direction to move in!

So, what are your thoughts? I invite you to share what your take on our cost of food and staying healthy is in the comments below. Do you support the proposed taxation/subsidy strategy?

Source: Mozaffarian D, Rogoff KS, Ludwig DS. The Real Cost of Food: Can Taxes and Subsidies Improve Public Health?. JAMA.2014;312(9):889-890. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.8232.

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