THE “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, “when a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli …” or “it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.”
“Doctor,” you understand that pre-packaged foods such as potato chips and / or fast food restaurant meals are, by virtue of already being prepared, “cheaper,” yes? And that 99-cent menus at establishments such as Wendy’s and McDonald’s means that, realistically, no one is actually spending “$27.89” at McDonald’s on a regular basis, right? Since you’re assuming a family of four (ah, gotta love the idea that every family in America is a family of four!) and you’re also assuming that most families have the time and resources to prepare a meal of “pinto beans and rice” and that somehow in your America the price of milk is still in the vicinity of $1.49 for even a half-gallon.
Doc, how much time do you spend in lower-income neighborhoods? And do you realize that one in five children now lives below the federal poverty level? Which means their families aren’t well-off, either, and believe it or not, working a ten- to 12-hour workday five days a week and those 99-cent foodstuffs at the dozens if not hundreds of fast-food establishments littering your neighborhood — especially in larger cities such as New York, LA or Chicago — are suddenly, and sadly, an all-too-real option to preparing a meal of “chicken, salad and potatoes for four.” (Look at this study, for God’s sake, that has a five-fast-food-joint-to-one-supermarket ratio across the U.S.)
As I’ve said before, the methodology behind studies like this are flawed — especially when taking into account that it uses data that is more than 15 years old. (I’d find you a link to my original post stating this, but I’m getting hungry.)
I’m genuinely curious, as a medical professional and an MPH, whether you’re as fully informed as you think you are — or if you’re basing your presumptions on having only ever served one segment of the population. You know, the well-off kind that always seems to have the time and resources to buy ingredients for, then prepare, every single one of their very healthy meals.