By Jason Stemm @NYCubsFan
Two studies released this week examining the cost of healthy foods show the gap between perception and reality. ShopSmart magazine conducted a national poll of women about eating healthy. What they found is that 88% make excuses for not eating healthful foods, with cost (57%) topping the list. Then just yesterday, the USDA released a study that “found that most fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods cost less than foods high in fat, sugar and salt.”
I’ve discussed the importance of nutrition and health cost to the U.S. economy before, but what struck me with these two studies is the chasm between perception and reality. Sometimes it is a matter of how we frame that reality, which provides health communicators with a teaching moment. Doctors, RD’s, nutritionists and marketers all have an opportunity to explain not only the immediate economics of eating healthful foods, but also the long term impact on health costs, happiness and overall wellness. Further, healthy people are more productive, leading more companies to invest in wellness programs. Despite all these efforts, the number of obese adult Americans is expected to increase 20% by 2030 to a whopping 42% of the nation.
Framing the conversation not around total calories (which most of us get too many of anyway) but rather portion size, weight and nutrients changes the equation. No longer is the donut a better value than an apple, or the soda a better deal than milk. Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest summed it up:
"If they buy a bag of chips for $2, they think it’s a good deal, but if they buy a bag of apples for $2, they think it’s a lot. We need to do more to help people understand that fruits and vegetables are not as expensive as they think they are."
Representing a variety of clients with strong nutrition messages and having two RD’s on staff, we are regularly working with health communicators to empower them with information and resources to help educate consumers. When I started here 13 years ago, we were developing primers to help dietitians talk about these new things called antioxidants and helping them explain what a carotenoid is and why it is important. Today we’re sharing exciting new clinical research on health benefits of avocados and the importance of MUFA’s (monounsaturated fatty acids). It has required a lot of effort and consistent communication at multiple levels, but our clients have seen consumption more than double in the past 10 years.
Others are doing amazing things to help educate people on both the importance of eating healthy, and how to do it. Share our Strength has a great program, Shopping Matters, which helps low income families navigate the store to find healthy, affordable foods. You can be a volunteer and get involved. It is easy and rewarding.
Jamie Oliver has been passionate about getting people to eat more healthful and real foods, and this Saturday is holding the first ever Food Revolution Day. His work in schools has been highly visible, showing them that they can serve affordable, healthy meals, but May 19, there will be 500 events taking place in over 300 cities spread over 33 countries. It underscores that this is a global issue, with worldwide obesity more than doubling since 1980. Find an event near you and check it out.
The truth is healthy eating is a choice we make each day that impacts the rest of our lives and those around us. My mother used to say, you only have one body so take care of it. In today’s consumer world where we get a new car every few years or a new jacket each spring, the idea of taking care of something for a lifetime of use is lost. It is much easier to buy some IKEA furniture and leave it when you move rather than taking a second generation oak chest that has a few nicks from decades of use. So eat a banana and brush your teeth. Your future self will thank you for it later.