Healthy eating really does cost more.
That’s what University of Washington researchers found when they compared the prices of 370 foods sold at supermarkets in the Seattle area. Calorie for calorie, junk foods not only cost less than fruits and vegetables, but junk food prices also are less likely to rise as a result of inflation. The findings, reported in the current issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, may help explain why the highest rates of obesity are seen among people in lower-income groups.
The scientists took an unusual approach, essentially comparing the price of a calorie in a junk food to one consumed in a healthier meal. Although fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients, they also contain relatively few calories. Foods with high energy density, meaning they pack the most calories per gram, included candy, pastries, baked goods and snacks.
The survey found that higher-calorie, energy-dense foods are the better bargain for cash-strapped shoppers. Energy-dense munchies cost on average $1.76 per 1,000 calories, compared with $18.16 per 1,000 calories for low-energy but nutritious foods.
The survey also showed that low-calorie foods were more likely to increase in price, surging 19.5 percent over the two-year study period. High-calorie foods remained a relative bargain, dropping in price by 1.8 percent.
Although people don’t knowingly shop for calories per se, the data show that it’s easier for low-income people to sustain themselves on junk food rather than fruits and vegetables, says the study’s lead author Adam Drewnowski, director of the center for public health nutrition at the University of Washington. Based on his findings, a 2,000-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day if it consisted of junk food, compared with $36.32 a day for a diet of low-energy dense foods. However, most people eat a mix of foods. The average American spends about $7 a day on food, although low-income people spend about $4, says Dr. Drewnowski.
And City Limits:
Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in Chelsea claims the unwanted distinction of running the largest lunch feeding operation for the needy in the country. Serving nearly 1,200 meals each weekday, the program is bigger than at any other time in HASK’s 25-year history. At the same time, federal funding for its $2.5 million annual program has dropped to the lowest level in years. Emergency food programs across the city are grappling with similar unprecedented challenges as they confront greater demand combined with fewer or inadequate resources.
The numbers are staggering. About 1.3 million New Yorkers—or roughly one in six residents—currently rely on emergency food programs to eat, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger(NYCCAH). Since 2004, that’s an increase of 24 percent in reliance on EFPs, as they’re known, according to a recent report by the Food Bank for New York City. At the same time, the amount of food received by the Food Bank, which supplies more than 1,000 local food pantries and soup kitchens, is at an all-time low. Federal food aid has been cut in half, and overall supplies are down 12 million pounds just since 2004. EFPs are open an average of one day less per week than only a few years ago, and 12 percent of pantries and kitchens can’t even open every week.
Most of the food shortage has been caused by a holdup in passage of the mammoth federal Farm Bill, covering everything from crop subsidies to biofuel programs – and public nutrition. The U.S. Senate reached a deal last week that could allow the passage for the bill, including The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). But even TEFAP's food supply has dropped by nearly 80 percent in recent years.The severity of the current emergency food shortage highlights the need to broaden the approach to hunger in New York City, some advocates and public officials say.