Why Does It Have to Be Either/Or?

messages plate it out May 24, 2010

The obesity epidemic facing this country is a complex and varied issue - it's not just about "accidentally overeating" a few times.  It has to do with economics, politics, geography, education, opportunity, psychology, and accessibility - and thats just to name a few.

One element of this issue is that unhealthy food is cheap and plentiful, whereas healthy food typically costs more.  You can get a candy bar for 75 cents, where as fresh fruits and vegetables may cost you $2.00-$4.00 per pound.  You can eat a high density diet (low nutrients, high calories) for $3.52 per day whereas a low calorie diet (higher nutrients, less calories) costs $36.32. If you're on a budget, which one will you choose?  

The high density/low calorie quote is from an article I read today that found the percentage of obese shoppers in low-cost grocery stores is almost 10 times higher than those who shop at upscale markets like Whole Foods.  

Here's a quote from the article that makes me feel sick:  "If people wanted a diet to be cheap, they went to one supermarket," said Adam Drewnowski, a University of Washington epidemiology professor who studies obesity and social class. "If they wanted their diet to be healthy, they went to another supermarket and spent more."  WHY SHOULD THIS HAVE TO BE AN EITHER/OR PROPOSITION?

We live in a society where an extra 1,800 calories is produced per person per day, yet we have to choose between buying healthy foods or junk foods if money is tight?  

New York recently proposed a tax on soda which I think is a great idea.  Less healthy foods should be more expensive so we would eat them less often.  How about instead of subsidizing corn (much of which gets used to make high-fructose corn syrup which can negatively affect our health and body fat levels) we subsidize healthy food?  What if fruits and vegetables were cheaper than junk food and found more places?  What if we had to go out of our way to find junk food?  A couple of years ago I was in Japan and was taken aback by what foods were found in convenience stores:  sushi, salads, and vegetables.  You had to work hard to find any junk food.  

I'm not saying all healthy food is always expensive - you can certainly eat healthy on a budget if you are thoughtful and strategic.  What I am saying is that nutritious food and a healthy lifestyle should be available to everyone - if we can subsidize corn, why not other crops?


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