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Healthy Diets Cost Around $1.50 More, Study Reports

Update Date: Dec 05, 2013 04:03 PM EST
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When asked why people do not eat healthier, oftentimes the replies are centered on finances. People claim that modifying their diets with healthier choices would cost them too much money, money that cannot be spared for low-income families. A new study decided to determine just how much of a cost difference it is to eat a healthy diet in comparison to an unhealthy one. The researchers found that the healthiest diets would cost around $1.50 more per day than unhealthy diets.

For this study, the researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) analyzed the data from 27 studies that have been conducted in 10 high-income nations. These studies provided information on the prices of individual foods found in healthy and unhealthy diets. The team conducted a meta-analysis and focused on the cost differences per serving and per 200 calories for some foods. They also looked at overall price per day and per 2,000 calories, which is the recommended daily amount by the United States Department of Agriculture.

"People often say that healthier foods are more expensive, and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits," said lead author Mayuree Rao, a junior research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH. "But, until now, the scientific evidence for this idea has not been systematically evaluated, nor have the actual differences in cost been characterized."

The researchers discovered that healthier eating patterns, such as diets with fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts only cost slightly more than unhealthy diets composed of processed foods, meats and refined grains. The team calculated that the average daily difference between the costs was $1.50.

"This research provides the most complete picture to-date on true cost differences of healthy diets," said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study's senior author and associate professor at HSPH and Harvard Medical School. "While healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected. Over the course of a year, $1.50/day more for eating a healthy diet would increase food costs for one person by about $550 per year. This would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs. On the other hand, 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."

The study was published in the British Medical Journal.

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