The TRUE cost of Cheap Food

ransomenoteHealth food sticker shock is like a hostage negotiation with your health being held for ransom. We’ve all been there…You are standing at the checkout of your local health food store, and you are blown away by the price. They might as well send you a note that says GiVe uS $274.15 aNd we will LEt YoU FeEl bEtTer foR a WeEk. (Get it…like a ransom note. . .a’hem. . .anyway)

Why does it have to cost so much?!? Is it really worth it?

In this article I’m not talking about the upstream costs of cheap food, the factory farm, damage to the environment…etc. I’m talking about downstream, the effects on our health and our economy.

The TRUE cost of Cheap Food

If you are anything like me, at some point in life you have “taken the easy route.” By easy I mean, eaten cheap junk food. Maybe you still do, because lets face it, you have to eat! When it’s the end of the day, and you only have a few dollars left. . .the last thing you want to do is THINK about food. You want to crash on the couch with an easy food choice and relax. The next day comes and you are beat, you are just trying to make it through another grueling workday. . .and so it goes. Week in and week out. Does it have to be that way? Do you have to FEEL that way?

More than a feeling

More often then not, the way we feel is directly connected to how we fuel our body. This can be a vicious cycle. You are tired (possibly from your diet) and so you don’t want to think about your food choices. You likely want food that will “comfort you” (not necessarily make you feel good), and so you eat foods high in carbs. This is the hamster wheel of pre-diabetes and weight gain. You are tired and just want to eat junk…therefore you are tired and just want to eat junk. There are many millions of people caught in this loop. The irony is that food companies benefit from this downward spiral.

This is partially why junk food is so cheap. Everyone is buying it. It is also a portion of the reason healthful food is more expensive, because there is less demand for it. But is that the end of the story?

Spend Now or Later?

Research shows that the more money you “save” by purchasing cheap junk food now…the more money you will spend on healthcare somewhere down the line. This fact alone can be a strong motivator for change in our diet. Can our grocery bill really increase our doctors bill? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average American spent $6,443 annually on groceries. This works out to be roughly 10-15% of the average income. What do we spend on healthcare? Health care expenditures in the United States neared $2.6 trillion in 2010. Thats over $8000 per person in the United States. Nearly 10% of that is caring for diabetes related issues. Did you notice that on average we spend more on doctor visits and treatments then we do on food. I recently asked around in the forums at the ADA how much they spend on diabetes a month/year. The answers ranged from about a 1,000 dollars a year to a shocking $20,000 a year! The toll of the Standard American Diet on society is broader but perhaps more subtle than its impact on our individual health. A child’s performance at school, worker productivity, the size of the national health budget—all of these are affected by cheap junk food.

Junk food undermines the health care system as well. Overweight and obese patients visit their physicians 20 percent and 40 percent more, respectively, than people of healthy weight. And obese people there were 2.5 times more likely to require drugs prescribed for cardiovascular and circulation disorders. The economic cost of these burdens to health care is enormous. Dr. Graham Colditz at Harvard has calculated the direct costs (hospital stays, medicine, treatment, and visits to the doctor) and indirect costs (reduced productivity, missed workdays, disability pensions) of obesity in the United States to be $118 billion annually, or nearly 12 percent of the nation’s health care expenditures. This is more than double the $47 billion in costs attributable to cigarette smoking in the United States. Add to this sum the $33 billion spent on diet drugs and weight loss programs, together with the unmeasurable psychological costs from the social exclusion associated with being overweight, and the full cost of overeating begins to emerge.

Food = Medicine

Hippocrates famously said “Let food be thy medicine”. But, come on…is it really possible to exchange prescription drugs for healthy food? For many people the answer is a resounding YES! I know from personal experience I was able to stop taking my medication because I changed my diet. For some people this means more or less types of foods of depending on what their particular health issue may be. Now, I’m not saying that if you eat real food, you won’t ever get sick. We are imperfect humans living in a wacky mixed up world. Like the proverb says “Time and unforeseen occurrence befall us all.” But if you examine your junk food bill and your medical bills you may discover they are connected. Like Andrea DiMauro at FoodTruth says, “Someone always gets your money. Pay the farmer or pay the doctor.”

Before you make a food purchase, ask yourself the following questions:

Am I making a good investment? How will eating this make me REALLY feel? Will it improve my health? Or will it increase my doctors bills?

“Real food” will cost you more of your paycheck right now. But recent history shows, it will likely save you money in the long run. And you can take that to the bank…literally.


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