Healthy Eating Costs Extra $1.50 A Day, Study Finds

By: Nick Viviani
By: Nick Viviani

(CBS) -- Healthy eating is constantly urged by health officials, but they’re not the ones typically footing the bill.

A new study finds eating a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts costs significantly more than a typical U.S. diet filled with processed foods, meat and refined grains.

Americans would pay approximately $1.50 extra a day -- about $550 a year -- to eat the way health officials recommend to stave off chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

“This would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs,” study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said in a statement.

“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," he added.

The researchers call this one of the most complete looks at the true cost differences for families who eat healthy. They reviewed 27 earlier studies from 10 high-income nations that included price data for foods considered to be part of healthy diets and unhealthy diets based on calorie counts.

Foods in unhealthy diets are “inexpensive, high volume” commodities due to production policies that have led to a complex web of profit-seeking farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing and marketing industries, according to the researchers. They call for a similar infrastructure created for healthier foods, which may increase availability and reduce costs.

The study was published Dec. 5 in BMJ Open.

Price differences by healthfulness appeared largest for chicken, intermediate for beef, and smallest for peanut butter.

Additional manufacturing and processing costs could explain some of the price differences, in that lean beef and skinless chicken require more processing.

Healthier snacks, sweets, grains, fats and oils were also more expensive per serving than less-healthy options.

Processed foods are a major source of sodium in the United States diet, according to the American Heart Association, which could increase risk for high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.

Red, processed meats have been linked to cancer risk.

Then, of course, there’s the obesity epidemic tied to unhealthy eating and inactivity. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. Foods should include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. They should also be low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.

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