Menus Subscribe Search

Eating Healthy Foods May Lighten Your Wallet

• December 21, 2007 • 7:23 AM

An unusual two-year analysis of grocery prices — based on the cost per calorie — reveals a nearly 20 percent rise in the cost of what are usually healthier foods, widening the already disturbing junk-food gap.

It’s getting more expensive to eat right, concludes a first-of-its-kind study by two researchers at the University of Washington.

Earlier research by one of the researchers had already concluded that it costs more — based on an admittedly unusual measure, the cost per calorie — to eat healthful foods; this latest twist finds the gap is widening.

Adam Drewkowski, director of the university’s Center for Public Health Nutrition, and Pablo Monsivias, a research fellow there, compared the price of foods that are less energy-dense to those that are more energy-dense in 2004 and 2006. Since “energy density” is rarely indicated on the shelf labels of local supermarkets, in pondering “less dense” foods, think fresh fruits and vegetables. Processed items that are high in refined grains, added sugars and added fats fall into the more-dense category.

Drewkowski and Monsivias first trooped through Seattle-area supermarkets checking out the prices in 2004, then repeated the survey in 2006. They report in the December edition of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that while the general inflation rate for food in the U.S. rose 5 percent in those two years, prices rose 19.5 percent for lower-calorie chow.

Of course, their measure is just one way of parsing the dinner table. They note that years of consumer-oriented surveys, including one by the U.S. Department of Labor that produced the 5 percent figure above, have looked at food costs through a basket of products, where say falling produce prices may offset rising dairy costs. That, they feel, can mask the increasing cost of eating properly.

The end result is that, if we could view the world in terms of temperature (as we can do using a camera that, like a pit viper, is sensitive only to infrared), we see that the natural world is much more variable in terms of the temperatures of organisms than we often assume.

Not only do plants and animals determine their own temperatures through different colors, shapes and surface wetness, but the amount of sun hitting any portion of the ground can have huge effects on temperature; studies have shown that the difference in the temperature of animals living on a shaded surface can be 15 C colder than that of an animal sitting in the sun only a centimeter away.

Using simple physics, we can calculate all of the sources and losses of heat, and we can estimate the temperatures of a range of plants and animals . The results often show patterns of body temperature hidden to the human eye, and so help us to predict where and when climate change is most likely to alter ecosystem function.

Ecological forecasting explores how organisms interact with their world to predict the temperatures of animals and plants or the cost to them of maintaining a constant temperature. Results also show that we can use these models to reliably predict past (and therefore future) changes in patterns of mortality in the field.

It’s not, at least in the developed world, a matter of eating enough. “We are an overfed but undernourished nation,” Drewkowski said in a release, which noted that people who dine regularly on energy-dense foods may consume more calories than they need while getting less nutrition than they bargained for.

With obesity on the rise, the researchers see their work as bulking up the evidence that it will take more than the bully pulpit to change the trend. “We need to focus on bigger-scale changes,” Monsivais was quoted, “like the farm bill or other policy measures that can address the disparity in food costs.”

They may have some powerful built-in listeners: The project was supported by two federal agencies, the Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health.

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 31 • 2:00 PM

A New York State of Fracking

Court cases. A governor’s moratorium. Pending health study. A quick guide to the state of fracking in New York.


July 31 • 11:17 AM

How California Could Power Itself Using Nothing but Renewables

We don’t need fossil fuels.


July 31 • 8:00 AM

Should Athletes Train Their Memories?

Sure, but it probably won’t help.


July 31 • 6:00 AM

Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on?

According to Almaz Zelleke, it’s not a crazy thought.


July 31 • 4:00 AM

Medical Dramas Produce Misinformed, Fatalistic Viewers

New research suggests TV doctor dramas leave viewers with skewed impressions of important health-related topics.


July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.