Everyone has had that moment—whether to grab a burger from a fast food joint with a dollar menu, or shell out the grocery money needed to choose a healthy alternative.
But a new report from the Harvard School of Public Health found that choosing healthier food options may not be as expensive as one thinks.
According to the research, recently published in the British Medical Journal, the only thing separating a healthy meal from an unhealthy option is $1.50 per day.
“A price difference of $1.50 is less than we might have expected based on the rhetoric you often hear about the high cost of eating healthy,” lead author Mayuree Rao told the AFRO. “$1.50 extra translates to about $550 more per year for one person, which is quite a lot for many families. On the other hand, $1.50 is about the price of a cup of coffee – just a drop in the bucket when you consider the billions of dollars spent every year on obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. “
Though only $1.50 more, the difference may be just enough to put healthier food out of reach for some. For a family of four, $1.50 per day for each family member translates to $2,190 per year.
A junior research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, Rao said that while price is one factor in whether individuals choose to eat healthy or not, there are also other issues such as availability and access to supermarkets.
The wide-spread belief that healthier foods cost a great deal more than unhealthy foods also poses a major barrier, especially in low-income communities.
“The actual availability and price of healthier foods had less of an impact than the perception,” she said. “We need better education of the general public about the true availability and price of healthy foods in their communities, including the long-term health impact of a poor diet.”
Researchers scrutinized data already collected from 27 other studies conducted in 10 high-income countries. The meta-analysis included price data for certain foods and also looked for comparisons and differences between healthy and not-so-healthy diets.
Prices were evaluated according to recommended portion size based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s suggested 2,000 calorie diet.
According to the study, the biggest price difference came from the meat and protein choice; healthier cuts of meat cost an average of 29 cents more than less healthier options.
“Healthier snacks, sweets, grains and fats and oils were also more expensive per serving than less healthy options, but with smaller price differences,” the report’s authors wrote.
The study also noted the price impact of processing food.
“Additional cost of processing and manufacturing could explain some of the identified variation in price differences; for example, lean beef and skinless chicken require more processing, perhaps accounting for their higher price,” the study found.
The researchers also concluded that more needs to be done to lower the price of healthy foods, which would in turn shrink the billions spent on chronic diseases directly related to consuming unhealthy, less expensive food.