Apples to chips is no ‘apples to apples’ comparison

by Josh Sosland
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Among the specious criticisms leveled at the processed food industry by the popular media is one based on price comparisons between snack foods and fresh produce. Usually suggested is that snack treats like chips are less expensive than healthier foods like apples, leading low-income people to make unwise food choices accounting for rising obesity rates and health problems.

Intuitively, this comparison of fresh fruit and snack foods seems like a questionable approach to measuring the affordability of a healthy diet, and a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture examined more deeply the question of whether healthy foods are truly more expensive. Measuring in price per serving and price per 100 grams, the department found healthy foods less expensive than food deemed unhealthy.

Unhealthier foods were less expensive when measured in price per calorie, an unsurprising finding given that snack foods typically are calorie dense. In their research, the department affirmed grains were the most inexpensively priced food group for individuals looking to meet daily eating recommendations by the U.S.D.A. Overall, the researchers’ basic conclusion is a sweeping one.

“The analysis makes clear that it is not possible to conclude that healthy foods are more expensive than less healthy foods,” they said. The conclusion underscored, still again, the unacceptable gap between public perception and reality when it comes to fundamentally important facts about food and nutrition in the United States.

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