Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Cost of Food

Are Americans fat because healthy food is more costly than unhealthy food and they're trying to save money? That's the theory. But an impressive analysis of the cost of 4,439 food items by the USDA Economic Research Service disproves the theory.

The USDA researchers examined the cost of thousands of foods in three different ways: by their price per calorie, their price per edible gram, and their price per average portion consumed. The typical way to compare food prices is per calorie. But this methodology is flawed because low-calorie items, such as vegetables and coffee, appear to cost more than high-calorie items such as ice cream and soda. Comparing the cost per average portion consumed changes the equation. Coffee, for example, is one of the most expensive items when measured by price per calorie with a rank of 4,321 out of 4,439 (the higher the number the more expensive the item). By this measure, coffee is much more expensive than regular soda (with a rank of 1,542). But when measured by price per average portion consumed, coffee is one of the cheaper items, with a rank of 231 versus 1,791 for soda.

The USDA report details many more of these reversals, concluding that healthy food is not more expensive than unhealthy food. Food cost is not excuse for Americans' weight problem.

Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price

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