When I mentioned on Twitter recently that eating healthier food is more costly (“cost” does not refer solely to money but also to time, labor, transporation, and other social determinants), a PhD nutritionist reponded that it is not more costly. She said she shows people an ad for a food store and points to how they can save money.
Many people who choose less healthy food do so because their choices are limited.
There is a persistent belief that low-income consumers have made wrong or inappropriate food choices and need to be educated, taught, or motivated to behave otherwise. In reality, their food choices are quite rational from an economic standpoint and are confirmed by computer modeling of diets, once food costs are taken into account.
Low-income families attempting to maintain food costs as a fixed percentage of diminishing income will be driven in the direction of energy-dense foods and a higher proportion of foods containing grains, added sugars, and added fats.
Obesity in the United States is a socioeconomic issue. It is related to limited social and economic resources and may be linked to disparities in access to healthy foods. Added sugars and added fats are far more affordable than are the recommended “healthful” diets based on lean meats, whole grains, and fresh vegetables and fruit. There is an inverse relationship between energy density of foods (kJ/g) and energy cost ($/MJ), such that energy-dense grains, fats, and sweets represent the lowest-cost dietary options to the consumer. Good taste, high convenience, and the low cost of energy-dense foods, in conjunction with large portions and low satiating power, may be the principal reasons for overeating and weight gain. Financial disparities in access to healthier diets may help explain why the highest rates of obesity and diabetes are found among minorities and the working poor. If so, then encouraging low-income households to consume more costly foods is not an effective strategy for public health. What is needed is a comprehensive policy approach that takes behavioral nutrition and the economics of food choice into account.
Society drives people to purchase less healthy food then derides them for their choices.