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The price of healthy eating

Obesity is extremely prevalent in the UK and in the most recent reports, it has been said that two-thirds of Britons are overweight. Due to this, healthy eating and the risks associated with a bad diet are at the forefront of people’s minds. Articles on this topic can be found every day in the newspapers and one of the most common areas focused on is the relationship between price and healthy eating.

Tips on how to eat ‘healthy on a budget’ and discussions about the price of ‘healthy’ supermarkets like Wholefoods are everywhere and this is just fuelling the belief that eating healthily comes at a price. But, where does this preconception come from? And, why has it become so plausible that eating healthy isn’t kind to the pocket?

Studies around this issue are far from few and there is ‘evidence’ that supports both sides. Processed and manufactured food is more profitable. So, with this in mind, Big Macs are understood to be cheaper than their alternatives because they are cheaper for a company (like McDonald’s) to buy in the first place. In this regard, it’s easy to see why people equate eating poorly with low-cost.

In spite of recent politicians arguing that getting your 5-a-day isn’t possible for many families, a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs shows that grapes, oranges and bananas cost less than 30p per serving and an 80-gram serving of carrots, peas or cabbage costs less than 8p. Therefore, if we compare this to the cost of a take-away, ready-made meal, or sugary snacks and crisps, eating healthy comes out as the cheaper option.

This isn’t helped by the price vs calorie comparison. This commonly used calculation attempts to show that healthy eating isn’t worth its price. Indeed, it ‘highlights’ that per calorie, healthier products are more expensive as they don’t contain as many calories. Now, personally, I think this is an odd way to try and compare food and expense. If we are going to determine whether healthy eating does in fact come with a price, then it makes more sense to compare price vs nutrient value or satiety. If this were the case, an apple full of nutrients is going to be a much better choice than a can of coke and proves that eating healthily isn’t going to break the bank and in some cases, will be the cheaper option.

So why do so many people still believe that eating healthily comes with a price? Marketing is crucial to answering this question. Marketers often use the health benefits of products as advertising tools to justify more expensive prices. This can cause us to believe that healthy options are intrinsically pricier.

A team of US researchers recently studied this presumption and how it affected our buying decisions. One of the studies that they carried out involved two almost identical chicken wraps priced at $6.95 and $8.95. Participants were asked to choose which they thought was healthier and in the majority of cases, they chose the more expensive wrap, even when the prices were swapped. Further, another study carried out by the team involving protein bars, found that participants displayed ‘suspicion’ regarding the health claims made on the cheaper bar but not the more expensive alternative. This exemplifies that the majority of us actually believe that healthy eating comes at a price as it is inherent for us to view the expensive option as the most-healthy.

However, this is exactly what marketers want us to think and we have to get out of this mind-set if we are going to combat the growing epidemic that is obesity. We have to start seeing that buying fruit and vegetables and creating healthy meals is a possibility on a budget and that a quickie meal at McDonald’s isn’t cheaper than a healthy home-cooked meal.

As the well-known English proverb says, ‘don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork’ because eating healthily really isn’t as expensive as we are led to believe.

By Kiera T.

4th March 2019


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