When good food costs less, people will make healthier choices. That’s the message from a recent study that found the price of healthier foods plays a significant role in Americans’ eating habits.
On average, healthier foods were nearly twice as expensive — 60 cents versus 31 cents per serving — than unhealthy foods. The healthy foods included milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, fruits and vegetables. Among the unhealthy foods were soda, sweets and salty snacks such as potato chips.
As the price gap between healthy and unhealthy foods widens, the odds of someone having a healthier diet decreases, according to researchers at Drexel University. The researchers used data from more than 2,700 people in six urban areas throughout the country, including New York, Baltimore and St. Paul, Minnesota.
For every 14 percent increase in the ratio of healthy-to-unhealthy food prices, researchers found the odds of a healthy diet dropped by 24 percent. About 40 percent of U.S. adults are obese and less than 20 percent eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
The comparatively low price of unhealthy foods may be contributing to low-quality diets and obesity, the researchers concluded. The effect of costlier, healthier food was particularly pronounced among those with more education and higher average incomes. That suggests that for low-income people, healthier food may still be too expensive at any price point.
Still, there was some good news in the findings. When healthier foods were priced lower, people often opted for the better food.
The takeaway: Be a savvy shopper, watch grocery store ads and stock up when healthy foods are on sale.