With the new school year comes the dreaded school lunches. We all know that packing healthy foods in our kid’s lunches is helps them to avoid weight gain and stay healthier in general. But you may not even realize the effect that food and beverage prices can have on your grocery shopping purchases. A study recently found that as the price of unhealthy food went down, body mass index in kids went up. And as the price of healthy food went down, BMI went down.
So what does all of this really mean? When the price of unhealthy food (soda, juices, starchy vegetables and sweet snacks) goes down, we tend to buy more of it, which translates into a higher BMI for children down the road. Similarly, when the price of healthy food (dark green vegetables and low-fat milk) goes down, we also tend to buy more of that, which translates into a lower BMI. And in homes with a lower household income, these effects are even more pronounced.
Another study showed that a single dollar could purchase 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips, but only 250 calories of carrots. Similarly, $1 could buy 875 calories of soft drink but only 170 calories of orange juice. And what about bottled water? When the cost of packaging and advertising is factored in, purchasing one bottle of water per day will likely be the same as purchasing one bottle of soda per day, approximately $550 per year. But people often feel like they are getting more for their money when spending a $1.75 on a soda versus the same amount on water. Shockingly, another study goes on to say that junk food costs on average $1.76 per 1,000 calories compared to a whopping $18.16 per 1,000 calories of nutritious foods (fruits and veggies).
Junk food prices are less likely to rise as a result of inflation. And in a struggling economy, people will often lean toward cheaper food options. There”s always talk about a possible soda tax and other solutions to raise the price of junk food to help curb our appetite for them, but we need to also focus on subsidizing healthy food as a nation, as the effect may be just as substantial on our kids. With a little financial help from Uncle Sam on regulating the prices of healthy options, better shopping strategies (coupon cutting, anyone?) and more education providing healthy eating tips and benefits, we can move toward a healthier diet for our kids and a less obese America.