As college students, many of us don’t think too much about the food that we put into our body. We order take out, eat pizza multiple nights in a row and don’t often purchase fruits and vegetables. For some people, this has no outward effect, as our metabolisms are statistically at their peak efficiency during these years. Of course, this is not true for everyone, and many of us don’t fall into the category of eating whatever we want whenever we want. For many of us, the conscious decision to eat healthily adds effort to our daily routine. It also adds an extra cost.
For years, we have seen fast food restaurants advertise value menus or dollar deals. The “$5 Foot Long” was a Subway specialty for as long as I can remember, and although it no longer exists, the memory of getting a huge sandwich for only five dollars lives on. When comparing these deals with the price of eating healthier foods, there is often no question in people’s minds: Healthy foods are generally more expensive. This is not to say you can’t eat healthy on a budget, as many people manage this. However, when comparing the price of a bag of lettuce to a meal off the dollar menu at McDonalds, fast food restaurants will give you more food at a lower cost every time.
This fact, while not news, is troubling. Especially when considering the rates of heart disease and obesity in our country. A recent study published in “The Lancet” has even concluded that an unhealthy diet causes more deaths per year than smoking. This may not be totally surprising considering we already know how big of an issue diet is in America and around the globe, but quantifying this by saying approximately 11 million deaths around the world are caused by poor diets yearly really puts this into perspective. This study, which compared 195 countries around the globe, concluded that the United States ranked 43rd in terms of “healthiest diet,” which is certainly not the worst. However, with over two-thirds of adults in our country considered to be overweight or obese, there is certainly room for improvement.
With this being the case, how do we persuade people to eat healthier diets, even on a tight budget? Other habits, like smoking, have been combatted through a combination of frightening scientific studies and persuasive advertising. Additionally, the increasing price of tobacco products has greatly affected both the ability and desire people have to smoke. Unfortunately, for unhealthy foods we often have the opposite problem. The constant advertisements we see seek to glorify unhealthy foods and emphasize the low cost at which these foods are readily available. Unlike with tobacco products, we don’t advertise the bad side of fast food or tell people the statistics of having heart disease or cancer on unhealthy food packaging. Of course, these scenarios are not equivalent in their impact, as eating unhealthy foods once in a while won’t have as great an effect as smoking a pack of cigarettes every once in a while. However, the fundamental differences in how we advertise unhealthy foods compared to cigarettes, when both can be deadly, is alarming.
Eating healthy is not something that is always easy or cheap. While eating healthy on a budget can be fairly straightforward with a little bit of planning and strategizing, it may sometimes seem easier to give in and buy cheaper, less nutritious food. This is not inherently bad, but everything in moderation. Only when we start to get into the habit of only eating foods that are low in nutritional value is where a problem arises. Proper eating habits are something we emphasize in childhood; however, these values need to be emphasized into adulthood if we want to change the overall state of our population’s diet. Otherwise, if we rely on advertisements and prices to dissuade people from eating unhealthily as we have done with smoking, our country’s health will continue to decline.