The smart people at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have crunched the numbers and it’s official: the healthiest diets cost just $1.50 more than unhealthy diets.
While cost is an issue in when it comes to adding more fresh produce and leaner meats such as fish in your daily diet, researchers of a new study published in the BMJ say that few studies have actually evaluated how much more expensive a healthier diet might be.
So the HSPH team conducted a meta-analysis of 27 studies from 10 higher income countries that compared price points for healthy and less healthy diets. They studied the price differences per serving and per 200 calories for a variety of specific foods, as well as prices per day and per 2,000 calories, which is the average daily recommended caloric intake for U.S. adults.
The results confirm that healthier fare, like fruits, veggies and fish are more expensive than unhealthy foods like processed meals and snacks and refined grains. That’s because current food policies support inexpensive but high volume production, and favor easily manufactured and processed foods that provide more profit per unit for the food industry.
However, swapping out some of these less expensive, and less healthy foods, for fresher and more nutritious ones added up to only about $1.50 more per day.
That might not be a problem for some, but the study authors acknowledge that people with lower incomes may not be able to afford the added cost. But, they hope, the small difference may put more nutritious foods within reach of more people, if food programs aren’t as deterred by the perceived high cost of eating better. “While healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected. Over the course of a year, $1.50 [per] 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,” said senior study author Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor at HSPH and Harvard Medical School.
Ultimately, however, the researchers suggest that production systems that make healthy foods more economical to produce, and therefore are more in line with processed food prices, are necessary. That way, healthier foods may become more accessible, health care costs for chronic diseases related to poor diets may also start to drop.