One of the logical assumptions about the current obesity epidemic is that it is caused by the wide availability of cheap junk food. Obviously, the food industry does not feel this way, and lays the blame elsewhere.
The Economic Research Service of the USDA decided to rigorously study the effects of food prices on weight gain in children. In a recently published a report “The Effect of Food and Beverage Prices on Children’s Weights” [PDF Download] they examined both the negative effects of cheap junk food and the positive effect of cheap healthy food.
What you need to know:
In line with expectations, higher prices for sugary drinks decreased consumption and as a result lowered BMI (body mass index). Conversely, cheaper fruits and veggies lowered BMI. Although statistically significant, food prices had only a small effect on children’s BMI.
Not all food prices had the same effect:
- A 10% price increase for carbonated beverages is associated with a decrease of 0.42% in the average child’s BMI. This is about a quarter to half a pound of weight gain over the course of a single year.
- The same price increase for 100% juices or starchy vegetables (e.g., potatoes and corn) is associated with a decrease in BMI of 0.3%
- A 10% price decrease for lowfat milk is associated with a decrease in BMI of approximately 0.35 %.
- A 10% drop in the price of dark green vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli…) is associated with a reduction in BMI of 0.28%.
So do these rather small changes mean that food prices do not matter? That taxing soft drinks won’t work? Or that subsidies for healthy food won’t be effective?
Of course not.
Take a look at the graph below and see that prices over the last 30 years did not change by a measly 10%. Fruits and veggies are 3 times more expensive today than they were in the 1980′s (200% increase), whereas junk food prices rose only 50%.
Imagine if fruit prices had risen at the same rate of soft drinks. They would be HALF THE PRICE that they are today. Imagine that! People would probably buy much more of the healthy stuff…
Time for a change in the farm bill?
Will we get rid of those silly subsidies that promote cheap soda pop through surplus-corn-turned-HFCS?
What to do at the supermarket:
The price of junk food is not just the payment at the checkout counter in the grocery store. It’s the medical bills down the line. Heart disease is not cheap. Diabetes is not cheap. Just ask the pharmaceutical industry.
So buy less of the sugary / fatty / salty snacks, and with the money saved splurge on fruits and veggies; berries for example.