America’s obesity epidemic was in the news last week when the CDC announced that there wasn’t a single state with an obesity rate below 21% in 2011. The study also found that 12 states had obesity rates in excess of 30%. In the subsequent media reports the common refrain from health professionals was that it’s too expensive to eat healthy. That common lie is unfortunate because it can be done affordably.
This was reinforced on a recent vacation when I made a couple of rest stops along the way at 2 popular fast food chains. This is something I never do because I like my arteries the way they are. I was stunned at the costs on the menu: The high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar meal deals averaged $6. For a family of 4, that’s $24. Why spend $24 and destine adults and children alike for debilitating, even deadly diabetic and heart ailments when there are plenty of beneficial alternatives that can be had on the cheap?
That family would be better served by brown bagging it. Tuna is a nutritious and important protein that can be purchased at one of the local discount supermarkets for 60 cents a can (compare that to a dollar or more at the regular stores), one of which can feed 2 people. Throw in low-salt, low-corn-syrup bread and some cheese and you’re looking at sandwich under $2 per person. $4 less per person -- and a whole lot better -- than the fast food fare. That lunch suddenly went from $24 to $8.
Burger joints are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the following alternatives to “normal” diets:
That same family probably indulges in junk food. Americans love their potato chips and corn chips. People may think they are an easy and cheap snack, but are they? Take a stroll around the grocery aisles and you’ll see most bags of chips nearing $4. How long does that bag last? A lot of times it won’t survive one feeding if there are a few people around. Due to the fatty goodness and addictive MSG, it’s not uncommon for a household to burn through a few bags a week. Alternatively, you can visit any local roadside stand or farmers market and buy a large bag of apples or other fruits for $5 that will last for days. They are just as satisfying and incredibly useful for our bodies. So, what may be $16 per week is down to $5 to $10 (depending on appetite).
That family might opt for processed foods in a variety of packages and cans for lunches during the workday or dinners at night. How much are sodium-soaked cans of chili or soup? Around $1.50 each and you need multiples to feed a family. Calorie–heavy prepared meals (TV dinners, pastas, boxed meats) are pricy, too, with price tags around $8 to $12 for family sizes. Assume 4 people eating canned foods, 7 lunches per week. That’s $42. Processed dinners might cost $84/week.
Those financial and health obstacles can be overcome with a little time, effort and planning. Take chilis and soups for example. Most every day at work I eat a bowl of homemade chili (the combination of meats, veggies and fibers makes it the perfect meal). I make this stuff in batches. My cost: $0.80/lunch. That would cut most lunch budgets in half (far more if they frequent fast food joints).
Likewise, look at recent sales fliers that show chicken at 99 cents to $1.80 per pound depending on cut and frozen vegetables at $1 per bag, while fresh produce abounds at local stands. Numerous tasty dishes can be made from those items, all at $10 per dinner or less to feed a family. The cost may be similar to the processed foods, but they build a body in a good way and not in a bad way.
The USDA says that the average family of 4 spends $153 to $240 a week on food. Using some of the examples provided, eating healthy falls at the lower end of that budget -- if not below it. So, why are we kidding ourselves about the real cost of eating healthy? It might just be that the high cost bogeyman conveniently masks the true – and more controversial - cause of America’s enlarged waistlines -- our lack of responsibility and discipline. We choose to eat bad foods because we like them, we’re too lazy to cook and we have a certain weakness of will when it comes to our stomachs. Bad health is our own doing.
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally ran in the 20 August 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers