A Healthy Diet Costs More, Study Says

A new Harvard study reveals that eating healthy costs $550 more per year.

The reality of eating well, as any health nut will tell you, is that good-for-you food is not exactly good for your wallet. They don’t call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck” for nothing. We’d know, considering the venerable grocery store is basically the Boston magazine staff cafeteria. And now validation of this widely accepted truth has arrived, courtesy of the Harvard School of Public Health. According to a new study by the HSPH, choosing to eat healthier by purchasing large amounts of fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts costs more per year than choosing to purchase unhealthy foods.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, examined data collected from 27 previous studies which included pricing information for food in both healthy and unhealthy diets. To put together overall diet patterns and conduct their analysis, the researchers evaluated differences in price per 200 calories per serving, and prices per 2,000 calories per day.

The study shows that on average a diet consisting of more fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts costs about $1.50 more per day over the course of a year than a diet consisting of processed foods, meats, and refined grains. That adds up to about $550 more per year.

Study researchers say that unhealthier foods are designed to be produced in large quantities at low prices. A large network of farming, storage, processing, and marketing strategies works to maximize profit for unhealthy foods, while healthier foods focus on spreading fresh, quality produce.

Dariush Mozaffarian, senior author of the study and associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health said in a report:

“This represents 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 researchers suggest, in light of the study’s findings, that an infrastructure similar to the one used for unhealthy foods should be applied to the production of healthy foods in order to lower prices and increase availability. Implementing such a system also has the potential, as Mozaffarian points out, to lower families’ health care costs by reducing the chances of diet-related chronic diseases.