The Steep Price of Not Eating Enough Fruits and Veggies
Super Bowl LI featured some great ads, quite a few of them for food. Who’s advertising? McDonald’s, KFC, Snickers, Skittles, and yes, to balance all that sugar fat and salt there were lonely Avocados from Mexico.
Junk food ad spend is enormous – 5 million for a 30 second ad in the 2017 Super Bowl – and snack and fast-food companies spend billions each year to convince Americans to consume their merchandise.
Surprisingly, when it comes to fruits and veggies, we’re wasting billions by not eating them.
Many chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer are attributable, at least in part, to diet and lifestyle. Other modifiable lifestyle factors – exercise, obesity and smoking for instance – are addressed often, and their economic burden is calculated.
Estimates of the price of not eating your fruits and veggies are hard to find.
In a new study in Public Health Nutrition, Canadian researchers, led by John Ekwaru and Paul Veugelers looked at chronic diseases in which fruits and veggie intake significantly reduces disease burden across many studies. After assembling the established estimates of the risk of inadequate vegetables and fruit on these chronic diseases, they found that the 80 percent of women and 89 percent of men in Canada eat inadequate amounts of veggies and fruit. Their most conservative estimate of the price of not eating your fruits and veggies in Canada is 3.3 billion $CAN yearly, a third of which is in direct health-care costs and two-thirds is indirect costs due to people being too sick to go to work.
And this is in Canada. The US population is almost ten times larger, and healthcare and drug costs in the US are far steeper.
Healthy food is a good investment
It’s rather heartless to measure human disease in dollars. Healthcare and productivity costs are dwarfed by the price in human pain and suffering. But this economic calculation is valuable when it comes to investing funds in public health.
When you look at it this way, it becomes evident that helping people eat better isn’t just the just and humane thing to do; it’s a solid financial investment, with very good returns, even if all you care about it the bottom line in dollars and cents.
Making healthy food accessible should be a public health priority.
The take home message from this study, for us, as individuals, is very simple. When you’re out shopping for food, the price at the grocer doesn’t always reflect the true cost. When you’re buying healthy food you’re investing in your own health. When you buy junk food, its price at the cash register is a fraction of what it will really cost you down the line. The cheapest foods and 1-dollar menus are actually very pricey and too expensive to even consider.