The Cost of Healthy Dieting

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As a personal trainer, I’ve seen many people make countless excuses for why they don’t have a healthy lifestyle or what they think they can’t achieve. Not enough time to exercise, not enough money to afford a fitness pass, not enough energy to be active, the list goes on. One of the most common excuses I hear is related to eating healthy. When I say healthy eating, I’m referring to eating healthy and not starving yourself or going on a celery diet for a week. Many people say the reason they can’t eat healthier foods is simply because healthier foods are significantly more expensive than unhealthy foods. They claim that the cost of eating healthy is too high, which is why they are forced to eat unhealthily for financial reasons. I decided to research the Louisiana State University campus to find out why that might be.

I began my research by creating surveys that asked four questions about what participants ate, where they ate, and what they thought about healthy eating. The results of my survey of 100 college students showed that 64% of them agreed that healthy food is significantly more expensive than unhealthy food. On the other hand, 36% disagreed and believed that a healthy diet is not significantly more expensive. This made me realize that, based on my sample, many people agree that healthy food is just too much to afford.

Question two asked participants what played the most important role in their grocery shopping decisions. The results showed that price is the most important factor for 45% of people. The taste of food was most important for 30% of people. The health of the food was most important to 18% of people and convenience was most important to 7% of people. These results showed that although people believe that healthy foods are more expensive, when making purchases, they consider the price and taste of the foods before considering health. Question three asked participants how many times they ate fast food in a week. The results showed that 40% of people ate fast food 3-5 times a week, 7% of people ate fast food more than 6 times a week, 32% ate fast food 1-2 times a week, and 15% ate fast food less than 1 time per week. This information told me that the majority of people were eating 3-5 meals a week from fast food restaurants. The last question I asked played a big role in my research. I asked participants how often they prepared their meals that did not contain ready meals. The results of this question showed that an overwhelming 55% of the participants only cooked 1-2 meals per week. In addition, 34% of the participants cooked only 3-4 times a week, 3% cooked 5-6 times a week and 11% cooked more than 7 times a week. These results told me that the majority of the participants cooked very little other than convenience foods like ramen noodles or Kraft Easy Mac.

From the data I collected, I was able to determine from my participants that although the majority claimed that eating healthy was more expensive, when it came to grocery shopping, the health of the food ranked third on the list of importance. I also noticed that the majority of the participants did not cook themselves and ate fast food 3-5 times a week. Since the majority of people don’t cook and eat fast food three to five times a week, the cost of eating healthily would be higher. If you can’t cook, trying to find healthy ready meals would be a challenge in itself, let alone finding healthy ready meals at a good price. On the other hand, it’s a lot cheaper to shop for groceries and prepare meals that are healthy and save money on leftovers in the long run if you can cook.

Many people get caught up in the Whole Foods gimmick, believing that the only place to get healthy food is at a place called Whole Foods. You don’t have to shop in the organic aisle at Whole Foods to be healthy, contrary to what many people think. Eating healthy means making good choices over bad ones. For example, a 21-ounce box of Cheerios costs $3.98 and a 20.5-ounce box of Lucky Charms costs $4.18, one a healthy choice, the other not. Another example would be Quaker’s Instant Oatmeal via Poptarts. PopTarts are $3.68 for 8 packs of 2 and oatmeal is $3.65 for 22 packs. I could literally do it all. A McDonald’s Big Mac combo costs about $7, while a 4-pound bag of chicken breasts is the same price. A Hot N’ Ready Little Caesars Pizza is $5.45, but a Walmart Fried Chicken is $4.95. We have healthy choices everywhere, if we’re willing to look for them. A bag of frozen vegetables is $1.98 and a bag of chips is $2.00. The only time unhealthy food is more expensive is when you’re eating out, and since that’s where it seems the majority of people eat their meals, they blame price for their poor eating habits. You can find healthy food almost anywhere and you don’t have to be rich to find it. In some cases, healthy foods can be more, but not as important as people claim they are.

In summary, I think people believe that healthy food is more expensive because they don’t prepare the food themselves. Because health isn’t a top priority when it comes to eating, people probably won’t be inclined to eat healthily. When you enter a grocery store and first look for cheap groceries, then look for what is good and cheap that you don’t need to cook. Chances are, you won’t find very healthy foods in this aisle, and you probably won’t throw away your first two criteria for the third, which is health. People buy what is cheap, good, and readily available. This is the source of the problem, which can only be adjusted through the actions of consumers.

Thanks to Blair Henderson

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