Eating Healthy Might Prove Too Expensive for Poor

"The neighborhood you live in affects consumption because supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods may have less-appealing produce, so people are less likely to buy it, or people may shop at a bodega instead of a supermarket where produce is less available," says Katz.

'Producing' Better Habits

Experts say that the problem can be solved only by eliminating financial barriers, creating incentives to buy healthy foods, and cultivating changes in peoples' attitudes.

"One idea is to place a small tax on foods with low nutritional value, like soda, for example, and to use the revenue collected to subsidize fruits and vegetables," says Katz. "A tax on low nutritional foods could be the funding source to subsidize foods with a higher nutritional value."

Another solution might be to link the purchasing power of food stamps to the nutritional quality of the food.

"For example, if people are buying junk food, a $1 food stamp is worth $1 of food," Katz explains. "But that same $1 could be worth $2 if people are purchasing fruits and vegetables."

Drewnowski believes that the government needs to play a larger role in subsidizing fruits and vegetables.

"This problem no longer lies with individuals," he says. "There needs to be a concerted government initiated policy to deal with the issue."

In addition to a larger governmental role, the authors believe education is necessary.

"There is a need to educate consumers about the importance of increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables, yet these education programs must consider the tradeoffs required for families to purchase more fruits and vegetables," the authors say. "Education on household budgeting and follow-up with consumers may be needed as people work to change spending habits to eat more healthfully," they write.

In the long run, paying more for fruits and vegetables now holds long-term savings for both families and the government in the future. The reason experts recommend so many servings of fruits and vegetables is that they offer the best way to prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

"The more fruits and vegetables you include in your diet, the lower your risk for all the major chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, many cancers, high blood pressure, the list goes on," says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

"I think of it as spending $65 every two weeks to help prevent a family of four from getting cancer, heart disease and diabetes. That's cheap prevention. No medication can do that so this is money that is well spent."

Katz agrees.

"Both food stamps and health insurance for the poor are government subsidized programs," he says. "The government is paying people to eat poorly and then is paying to deal with the health consequences.

"It would be more economical to pay people to eat well so that you don't have to treat them in the hospital when they have heart disease and diabetes."

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