Mind the gap: The widening divide in healthy vs. unhealthy food prices

Today I’d like to discuss something that is extremely discouraging to me—and something I hope will make you angry. (Add it to the ever-growing list of things to be angry about when it comes to the government “protecting” our health.)

According to recent research, the price gap between unhealthy, packaged, processed foods and fresh, organic, healthier options has grown much wider over the last 10 years.

The researchers found that while the average price of both unhealthy and healthy foods grew over the period, the increase has been greater for more healthy foods, making them progressively more expensive over time.

While healthy foods have always been more expensive than their unhealthier counterparts, the size of the price gap between the two has increased by a whopping 28.6 percent in the past 10 years, according to this research. This gap isn’t just unacceptable—it’s an outrage.

And while this particular study was done in the U.K., the situation is the same—if not worse—in this country.

Though the price disparity between junk food and whole, natural food in the U.S. shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, our government subsidizes the primary ingredients in processed foods—wheat, corn, sugar, soybeans and rice—to the tune of billions of dollars per year. Not only are these the most genetically modified foods, but they’re also the ones that research has directly linked to a laundry list of illnesses (and to six of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States).

What we choose to subsidize directly affects public health…and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This is something that must end if we’re ever going to solve the obesity-related epidemics running rampant in this country. It’s time to change the farm bill and change our ridiculously warped food policy. Organic farming must be subsidized. There has to be a more efficient, cost-effective way of getting food from the farm to the table without the “trendiness” price differential.

In the meantime, if you can’t afford to make the switch to a completely organic diet, do what you CAN with the resources you have. While organic food might be ideal, “regular” fruits, vegetables, and meats are still far better for you than the processed junk you’ll find lining the inner-shelves of the supermarket. And a much, much better investment in the long run.


“The Growing Price Gap between More and Less Healthy Foods: Analysis of a Novel Longitudinal UK Dataset.” PLoS One, epub ahead of print 10/8/14 >