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Why eating healthy is so expensive in America

Produce that helps health hurts wallets.

Dorotea Sotirovska and Elizabeth Philip/Vox

The American plate has increasingly lacked nutritious food. This eating trend has serious consequences: There is a strong link between diets low in fruits and vegetables and obesity and diabetes.

One reason why Americans tend to choose less healthy options is simple: cost. Processed foods tend to have a lot more calories at a lower price; that’s more bang for your buck than fresh food if you’re on a budget.

Fresh fruits and veggies are more expensive to farm than crops that will be processed. Produce relies on human labor rather than machines, and machines are more efficient and cheaper in the long run. But the US government also doesn’t subsidize leafy vegetable crops in the same way it supports wheat, soy, and corn, vital ingredients in a lot of junk food.

Some programs in the United States are trying to steer consumers toward healthier options. Researchers are suggesting a junk food tax on “nonessential” foods like candy, soda, and potato chips as the next frontier in public health policy. Experts cite similar taxes on alcohol and cigarettes that have worked to curb consumption.

And there are programs trying to make produce more affordable for lower-income Americans. The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, or FVRx, for example, enables doctors to give participants $1 vouchers toward fresh produce. Other potential solutions include community gardens and creative advertising for healthy eating.

More research is needed to find out which policies work best, but they are worth trying for one simple reason — if Americans ate more fruits and vegetables, they’d be a whole lot healthier.

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