When my first book, Feed Your Kids Well, came out, multiple reporters asked how the average American family could afford to take my advice about nutrition.
I even had to go grocery shopping across various neighborhoods to prove my point that yes—purchasing healthy food can, indeed, be affordable. (This is a point I’ve seemingly had to argue throughout my entire career.)
So you can probably imagine my reaction when I recently came across an article that stated as many as six in ten Americans think that living healthy is just too expensive.
Let’s talk about it—beginning with some surprising statistics…
A new survey found that 68 percent of urban city dwellers believed that staying healthy is too expensive.
Of course, this makes sense when you consider the impact of food deserts in low-income neighborhoods—but as a lifelong resident of New York City, I suppose I just naturally expected the opposite.
The survey also revealed that eating healthy is a low priority for many. Mental health and safe living environments received top priorities, with 65 percent of respondents ranking these needs first. Good relationships with friends and family followed close behind at 61 percent—while 59 percent prioritized exercise more than three times weekly.
That leaves us with only half of the respondents prioritizing healthy eating. And here’s where the numbers really start to scare me…
Only 22 percent of polled subjects could name a nearby grocery store that sells affordable, high-quality produce. And for a good 80 percent of respondents, the closest supermarket was more than a mile away from home—with an average distance of more than four miles away.
Of course, I think this simply speaks to a lack of interest in finding a place to buy fresh produce. Because you can—and will—find regular farmer’s markets in many cities… but it’s just easier to buy (and eat) junk/convenience foods.
And while 4.1 miles isn’t exactly that far, I can see why it might be a deterrent for people who don’t have a car. But for those that do, again, I fear this response is simply about picking the fastest, easiest option.
In fact, the survey also revealed that people turned to fast food just under three times a week on average—while another 24 percent say they eat it five or more times per week.
That’s why it’s no surprise to me at all that the survey also found that 80 percent of respondents either know someone with a lifestyle-linked chronic health condition (like heart disease or type 2 diabetes), or suffer from one themselves.
Your health, your responsibility
Look—I agree without question that healthy food shouldn’t be as expensive as it is. (And I routinely challenge the government’s choice of “food” subsidies for precisely this reason.)
But over the least 30 years, it has always been my belief that healthy food isn’t actually out of most people’s budget. It’s just that we simply don’t consider it to be as valuable as things like streaming services, smartphones, or other trappings of modern life.
Don’t get me wrong—we should all be able to enjoy ourselves this way. But the bottom line is that we also have to take responsibility for our health… and not rely on the healthcare system to take care of us when we fail. (Something that millions of Americans have done during the pandemic, to my chagrin.)
So, rather than pointing fingers, making excuses, and taking the easy way out—hear me when I say that the ball is in your court… and the responsibility to stay healthy falls at your feet.
This country’s disparities in access to healthy food won’t be corrected overnight.
But I don’t think I’m out of line when I say that making smarter choices at the grocery store… planning healthier meals… moving a bit more whenever you can… and perhaps even taking a simple multivitamin isn’t much to ask. And when you are in a bind (or a rush), simply opt for healthy convenience options—like frozen veggies, a prepackaged salad, nuts, or meat.
Making these simple changes aren’t all that difficult or expensive.
Of course, just like wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic, that doesn’t mean people are going to do it.
“Many Americans Feel Leading Healthy Lifestyle Is Too Expensive, Study Finds.” Yahoo News, 09/21/2021. (news.yahoo.com/many-americans-feel-leading-healthy-183207624.html)