Way back in 2004, University of Washington researcher Adam Drewnowski explored the relationship between poverty and obesity, finding that foods in supermarket middle aisles – mostly processed junk – delivered the most calories per dollar. One dollar spent on soda, for example, delivered 875 calories, versus only 170 calories found in fruit juice. For families stretching their limited food budgets, picking up the soda almost makes sense.
This study led Michael Pollan to argue that these “energy-dense” foods are so much cheaper than nature's fruits not because of the free market, but due to “a function of government policy: our farm policies subsidize the most energy-dense and least healthy calories in the supermarket.” His own conclusion: “eating well is elitist”.
A recent follow-up study published in Grist shows that 7 years later, eating well still is elitist.
As Grist reports, The Ration took 30 supermarket items, including vegetables, meats, and snacks, and compared their calories, sodium, and sugars per serving with their price for serving on the interactive infographic below. Their findings largely confirm Drewnowski's conclusion that the obesity problem is inextricably linked to the cost of food: “Processed convenience foods and snack foods generally cluster towards the low cost and high calorie, high sodium, and high sugar section of the graph, while more nutritious and lower calorie options, like fresh meat and vegetables, fall on the expensive end of the spectrum.”
An unsurprising conclusion, yes, but with obesity as much an issue now as it was in 2004, it's still a problem to which – surprisingly – we have yet to find a solution.