Eating Healthy May Be More Expensive

Prices of healthy food and drink were higher and rose faster than prices of unhealthy food

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Despite the connection between diet and health, not everyone buys healthy food. One barrier to eating healthy may be hard for some to overcome.

A 2013 survey done in the UK revealed that the cost of food was a major factor in which foods people purchased. That finding led a research team to investigate the cost of healthy food compared to unhealthy food.

The study found that the cost of healthy food was higher than unhealthy food. They also found that, over the 10 years the study covered, the cost of healthy food rose faster than unhealthy food.

Nicholas R. V. Jones, MSc, from the UK Clinical Research Collaboration Centre for Diet and Activity Research at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, UK, led this research study.

The research team compared the price of 94 food and drink items over the 10 years from 2002 to 2012.

Jones' team obtained nutritional data for each item from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey database. The team used this data to categorize each food as healthy or unhealthy.

Results of the research showed that in 2012, the average price of healthy food was £7.49 ($12.03) per 1,000 calories of food, compared with £2.50 ($4.02) per 1,000 calories of unhealthy food.

Over the 10 years of the study, the price of healthy food rose faster than the price of unhealthy food.

“Our results suggest that we should consider not only the issue of people being able to afford to eat enough food to avoid hunger but also being able to eat enough food which is healthy,” the authors wrote.

A 2008 report, the USDA found that between 1980 and 2006, the price of dessert and snack foods decreased in the U.S., but that the price of fruits and vegetables increased. The authors stated that the increase in fruit and vegetable prices was probably due to convenience preparations of those foods, such pre-washing, pre-cutting, salad kits, availability of fruit during all seasons and baby carrots- and not a real price increase in most fruits and vegetables.

The USDA report, however,  presented its data in terms of cost per unit or per weight. The report divided foods based on healthy or not healthy classifications, but did not express the cost per 1000 calories, as Jones’ study did. In the USDA report, the cost per nutritional value was not apparent and the prices were not directly comparable to those in the study by Jones and colleagues.

This research was published October 8 in PLOS ONE.

Funding for the study was provided by the British Heart Foundation, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and the Wellcome Trust. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 7, 2014
Last Updated:
October 9, 2014