How Food Prices Affect Your Weight

While increasing the prices of bad foods makes kids skinnier, a more effective solution might be finding ways to decrease the price of foods that are good for you.

fast food

That Americans don't eat as healthy as they could isn't a surprising fact. But it turns out that tiny economic shifts can make that problem worse, or make it better. Just a few cents difference in price can make unhealthy foods—sodas, sugary snacks—either more appealing or less appealing and has a measurable effect on people's weight. And cheaper prices on healthy foods make people skinnier, even if bad-for-you foods stay the same price.

A new report from the USDA looked at the body mass index (BMI) of children and how it changed in response to food prices. Unsurprisingly, if prices increased 10% for soda, children's BMIs dropped .42%. That's 50% of a 8-year-old's normal weight gain for a year. That seems like a fairly large argument for a soda tax, but the study also found that helping people buy healthy food may be even more effective than penalizing them for buying unhealthy food.

If the price of 100% juice decreases 10%, BMIs decreased .3%. The same process works for lowfat milk (.35% decrease) and dark, leafy vegetables (.28% decrease). Making those healthy foods easier to buy does wonders for a child's weight, as their parents grativate toward them. Sadly, a look at food prices over the last 20 years shows that the price of fruits and vegetables has risen astronomically compared to the price of carbonated beverages. Perhaps dark, leafy greens could use some subsidies.

[Hat tip: Fooducate]

[Image: Flickr user Zack Klein]

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  • Daniel Sircar


    You raise some interesting points. There's a good conversation on this article going on here:

    Let me know if you can't see it, in the meantime I'll try to move the conversation to be "public" and not just in my circles.

  • Stuart Bogue

    I live in SW France. The contrast between France and the US in the market is staggering. Processed and prepared food is hugely expensive here,with fruits and vegetables quite reasonable.The opposite is certainly the case in the US. My wife was stunned when she went shopping there for the first time.

  • Nikki Nadeau

    I agree Lauren, how about stores having a cooler of fresh fruit at the check out instead of a bunch of soft drinks to choose from, Simple changes would make a HUGE difference.

  • Lauren Finzer

    This study reinforces the importance of making healthy foods easier to buy than unhealthy ones. Achieving that goal requires more than price changes. We should also make sure that healthy foods are ubiquitous and easily available in all communities. 

  • nynetguy

    "Perhaps dark, leafy greens could use some subsidies." Uh, dark, leafy greens already receive massive subsidies as it is.