The Economic Aspects of Healthy Eating
What concerns the majority: the economic aspects of a healthy diet
by Georgina Pujol-Busquets Guillén
Eating healthy isn’t always easy, but committing to a healthy diet can be one of the smartest decisions you ever make. Why? Not only can eating well make you look and feel better, it can also save you money on future health costs. Good nutrition is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. Combined with physical activity, your diet can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases, and promote your overall health. Even for people at a healthy weight, a poor diet is associated with major health risks that can cause illness such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. The link between good nutrition and healthy weight, reduced chronic disease risk, and overall health is too important to ignore.
Some aspects to consider when committing to a healthy lifestyle:
- Increase productivity: One study published by Population Health Management found that eating an unhealthy diet puts you at a 66% increased risk of productivity loss. Another study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that an unhealthy diet represented the highest risk for low productivity out of 19 possible risk factors, including lack of exercise, chronic pain and financial instability.
- Enhance mood: What you eat has an impact on your brain, including the parts that regulate mood. Although there’s no single food that acts as a proven antidepressant, maintaining stable blood sugar through regular, proper nutrition will help you feel better overall on most days. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals, such as vegetables, have been associated with an overall lower risk of depression, as have foods rich in omega-3 fats, such as nuts, salmon and other fatty fish. True happiness isn’t just about the absence of depression; it also includes general well-being. Eating healthy can reduce stress too. When your body is in a chronic state of stress, it breaks down protein to prepare for battle, but certain foods have the ability to moderate the body’s level of cortisol, the stress hormone. Some studies have found that consuming foods with omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium may help reduce cortisol levels.
- Regulate weight: Even if it’s only by 5-10%, reducing your body weight can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes, according to the Obesity Action Coalition. Simple healthy choices such as replacing soda with water, choosing veggies instead of chips, and ordering a side salad in place of fries not only will help you lose weight, it also can help you save money.
- Be healthier: Not everybody who is thin is healthy, and not everyone who is overweight is unhealthy, but eating right can improve health for even thin people who are fast food junkies.
- Live longer: The same diseases that make you feel bad and cost a lot of money may also lower your life expectancy. A few small changes in the right direction can help improve your life now, and they may fatten your wallet too.
If we focus on the case of the LCHF diet, it has been demonstrated that when you are committed to this lifestyle, you save money because you learn not to be addicted to food so in the end, you eat less by controlling your hunger. When analysing the data, the researchers suggested that unhealthy diets may cost less because food policies have focused on the production of “inexpensive, high volume” commodities, which has led to “a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities that favour sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.” Given this reality, they said that creating a similar infrastructure to support the production of healthier foods might help increase availability—and reduce the prices—of more healthful diets. To change that, we should advocate taxing unhealthy foods and using the revenue to subsidise healthy choices. When a tax and subsidy are paired, food on balance costs the same, and healthier diets actually become less expensive.
The basis of obesity lawsuits is that consumers are deceived or enticed by the food industry into overeating, if not actually made addicted to snacks and fast foods. The basis of obesity defence is that the consumers are free to choose and are capable of saying no. The key argument that they use is that everyone has personal responsibility for his or her eating habits and is free to choose from among the available foods.
Public health efforts to modify the food environment have followed one of two paths. One strategy has been to try and remove the offending low-cost foods from the consumers’ reach. Hence, the proposals to restrict the sale of fats and sweets, limit the advertising and marketing of soft drinks, or impose taxes to discourage snack consumption. An alternative strategy is the need for more effective consumer education, as opposed to modifying the food environment to remove disparities in access to healthier foods. By giving the necessary knowledge to the population, you ensure that they will be totally free to make the correct decisions.
There is an inverse relationship between energy density of foods (kJ/g) and energy cost ($/MJ), such that energy-dense grains, fats, and sweets represent the lowest-cost dietary options to the consumer. Good taste, high convenience, and the low cost of energy-dense foods, in conjunction with large portions and low satiating power, may be the principal reasons for overeating and weight gain. Financial disparities in access to healthier diets may help explain why the highest rates of obesity and diabetes are found among minorities and the working poor.
The obesity epidemic is not so much a failure of biological systems but a social and economic phenomenon. At the individual level, the prevalence of obesity is higher among groups with low education and low incomes. Understanding how the high-risk vulnerable groups make food choices is a necessary component of nutrition intervention like our Eat Better South Africa interventions from The Noakes Foundation, which advocates nutritional education to fight against the inequality in terms of economic determinants of health to ensure a wide perspective of a healthy lifestyle in terms of a LCHF diet.
Drewnowski, A., Darmon, N. Modifying the Food Environment: Energy Density, Food Costs, and Portion Size. Food Choices and Diet Costs: an Economic Analysis. J. Nutr. 135: 900–904, 2005.
Georgina Pujol-Busquets Guillén is from Barcelona and is currently interning at The Noakes Foundation – she is an instrumental member of the team working on the upcoming Eat Better South Africa! community intervention program.