That Americans don't eat as healthy as they could isn't a surprising fact. But it turns out that tiny economic shifts can make that problem worse, or make it better. Just a few cents difference in price can make unhealthy foods--sodas, sugary snacks--either more appealing or less appealing and has a measurable effect on people's weight. And cheaper prices on healthy foods make people skinnier, even if bad-for-you foods stay the same price.
A new report from the USDA looked at the body mass index (BMI) of children and how it changed in response to food prices. Unsurprisingly, if prices increased 10% for soda, children's BMIs dropped .42%. That's 50% of a 8-year-old's normal weight gain for a year. That seems like a fairly large argument for a soda tax, but the study also found that helping people buy healthy food may be even more effective than penalizing them for buying unhealthy food.
If the price of 100% juice decreases 10%, BMIs decreased .3%. The same process works for lowfat milk (.35% decrease) and dark, leafy vegetables (.28% decrease). Making those healthy foods easier to buy does wonders for a child's weight, as their parents grativate toward them.
Sadly, a look at food prices over the last 20 years shows that the price of fruits and vegetables has risen astronomically compared to the price of carbonated beverages. Perhaps dark, leafy greens could use some subsidies.
[Hat tip: Fooducate]