Higher Food Prices May End Up Being A Blessing In Disguise

by Justin Weinger on December 23, 2007

Have you noticed that your grocery bill has gotten more and more expensive over the last couple of months? Turns out you’re not alone.

I think that while in the short term this is going to hurt a lot of people financially (last time I checked, we do have to eat, so we’re probably going to continue to spend money on food despite the higher prices) in the long term higher food prices may be exactly what the United States needs.

The reason being, when prices increase above what you’re normally used to paying (especially if the jump is both unexpected and dramatic) on some level there is a correlating reduction in demand/consumption of that product. For example, let’s say gas prices jump to $4 – invariably more people will think twice about hopping in their car and going for a drive and will simply drive only if they have to.

Now, let’s translate this idea to food.

What’s the country’s most pressing health related issue? If you said obesity, you’d be correct. Obesity obviously has been linked to increased risk for a myriad of chronic health problems, from heart disease to cancer to erectile dysfunction.

What’s one of the largest growing costs for the average American family? Aside from energy, health care has the highest year over year out of pocket expense increase. Much of the reason health care has become so expensive is because the health care system has had to treat more and more of these very expensive chronic diseases.

On top of all of that, there is the brewing Medicare/Medicaid problem for the U.S. government. With health care costs expected to continue to skyrocket, the United States government won’t be able to continue the current health care plans without selling its fiscal soul to China (if it already hasn’t).

So, back to the price of food – if it continues to jump, people are going to have to be more selective about what they eat and, more than likely, do a better job of eating less and rationing their food. Last time I checked, it’s pretty tough to become morbidly obese when your caloric intake is slashed by 10 to 20 percent.

So, with people having to actually adjust to eating less and not being so gluttonous, there should be a decline in the obesity rates throughout the country. In turn, over time this should lead to a corresponding decline in chronic diseases which more than likely will lead to a decline in health care costs for everyone.

Granted, this is a very rough theory, but in the end, I think it’s easy to see how an increase in the cost of food would likely bring about a less fat society, which in turn would hopefully bring lower health care costs for everyone.

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{ 24 comments }

billy December 25, 2007 at 3:57 pm

Actually if anything it’s probably the opposite. As food prices rise, many of the healthier foods such as fresh fruit will likely spike the hardest and highest, while a lot of the cheaper, crappier foods, like SPAM in a can, and all other sorts of fat-filled canned goods, will remain the cheapest of the lot. So, if anything, consumers will likely gravitate to the cheaper, fattier canned goods, rather than expensive vegetables and whole grain breads and the like. Nice try though.

Jason MD December 25, 2007 at 4:01 pm

Unfortunately, the opposite will most likely be true. The highest rates of obesity (both adult and childhood) correlate most closely with low income areas. The reason? The cheapest foods are almost always the worst for you. If you don’t believe me, just look at the center isle of your local grocery store. The “staple foods” that are high in starch and high fructose corn syrup are the cheapest. Lean meats and vegetables are more expensive. I find it unlikely that higher food cost will somehow inspire people to start making healthier choices, or enable them to do so if they wish.

Kevonski December 25, 2007 at 4:03 pm

This is something that would make sense except for one thing. It is often the poorest areas that have the highest obesity rates. As economic affluence goes down, people turn to cheaper products that are worse waistline wise. Think about it – you can buy a gallon of milk or three boxes of little debbie snake cakes. I don’t think inflation will change our waistlines for the better. Really, I don’t think that economics could change our waistlines until the economy has gotten so good everyone can afford to eat properly, or it gets so bad that the very poor are on rice rations.

nucrash December 25, 2007 at 4:15 pm

Thank you for commenting on a matter with out thinking. You see the problem with your theory is that just because the cost of food rises, does not mean that people will consume less, they will just consume what is cheapest. Right now, consumers chose crappy selections that are packed in preservatives and sodium because of their longer shelf life.

So by buy more of this crap, we are only improving our ability to eat crappy food which does not digest properly. Items that make us feel full, but does not break down and produce energy like we need. So instead of creating a leaner American, we are only creating a lazier American.

Long term, this may finally come around for us, but the cost of junk food will have to become out of reach.

Flem December 25, 2007 at 4:24 pm

I kind of see the opposite. The good for you foods have always been pricier and are getting more expensive faster. Processed food are cheaper and seem to have held up better price wise. Betting people are gonna be downing those dollar cheeseburgers a lot more now.

Brian Carr December 25, 2007 at 4:29 pm

It’s not like fast food and other unhealthy foods are immune from these increases as well. I also doubt that unhealthy foods will increase in price at a lesser rate than healthier foods.

Regardless, I think that as food prices increase, people will be less likely to eat out (which is generally less healthy than eating in) and will be forced to get a better bang for their buck – i.e. actually sit down and determine which foods are both cost and health effective.

Steve December 25, 2007 at 4:36 pm

Bzzzzzzzt! Wrong, wrong, wrong! Oh, nice idea, but wrong.

The reason? Sadly, it is healthy foods which are the most expensive and the first ones to go by the wayside when food budgets are cut. Fresh vegetables and fruits, low fat cuts of meat are all higher priced. So, people turn to unhealthy processed foods and meats, canned soups, pasta and rice dinners. Instead of being more healthy, people are likely to be less healthy. Just take a look at what kinds of foods are distributed from food pantries. They do the best they can, but they’re not likely to be able to distribute expensive fresh foods or frozen foods (frozen veggies are a close second to fresh, canned a little less so).

Now, regarding restaurant food which is really expensive and very high in fat, calories and sugar, limited budgets could force many people to avoid eating out and that could save their waistlines.

Brian Carr December 25, 2007 at 5:17 pm

I think I’m going to have a tough time winning this argument, calories are calories – and it’s the unburned calories (i.e. not being active) that cause people to become overweight, not the source of the calories.

For example, if someone ate 5,000 calories of healthy food each day, yet burned only 2,000 calories they would gain weight much more quickly than someone who ate and used 2,000 calories from fatty foods.

My argument is that as all food becomes more expensive (and there isn’t any type that will be immune from the price hikes) people are going to have to eat less in general.

Chi December 25, 2007 at 5:36 pm

What about people who are chronically underweight? Doesn’t the higher price of food mean that they’re kind of screwed? They may end up relying on public assistance in order to afford to eat enough. Not to mention all of the health problems associated with being too skinny. No, I don’t think this will solve the health care problem at all, actually.

ET December 25, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Sorry, the equation doesn’t work. People will get the cheapest food available, healthy or not. Money for food will not be sacrificed when you can sacrifice things like buying books, dvds, (things that you want but don’t NEED). People are going to eat less of the healthy expensive stuff and more of the unhealthy cheap stuff.

Ahavah December 25, 2007 at 5:59 pm

Actually, you may be mistaken in your premise – unless hyperinflation sets in, of course. What will happen is that people will have to buy lower down on the quality chain – bleached white flour instead of whole wheat, cheap hyrdogenated oil instead of virgin oils, less organic and more agribusiness factory farmed junk, more processed box foods instead of meals made from scratch from quality ingredients, etc., etc.

What results is not thinness – it’s more obesity, because the cheap junk ingredients in cheap foods is the biggest cause of malfunctions of your biochemical processes that end up making you obese. Some of the poorest counties in this nation have the hugest people – because they live off cheap processed food and can’t afford fresh, organic, unprocessed foods that are good for them. A cartful of fresh veggies costs twice as much, and provides less end product, then a cartful of mac&cheese, hamburger helper, and frozen dinners.

It’s economics 101 – quality will diminish long before quantity does.

Ahavah December 25, 2007 at 6:04 pm

BTW, by the time people are cutting seriously into their food budget, it will be because they have entirely run out of money. People will blow off their credit card payments, their discretionary spending, cell phones, cable, and internet, even car payments before they will seriously reduce spending on food. By the time that happens, the economy will be totally collapsed and losing a few pounds will hardly be people’s biggest concern.

Just eat less December 25, 2007 at 7:24 pm

Actually unprocessed fruit and meat is cheap. You just have to buy it at costco or a farmers market not a regular grocery store.

This is a response to the other posters, not the original article

Anonymous December 25, 2007 at 8:58 pm

And the few Americans who aren’t fat, and already barely getting food, will end up dying. Mayhap I should move to England?

Larry December 26, 2007 at 1:17 am

I’m sure all the processed sugar and hydrogenated oil based foods will be even cheaper in relation to anything healthy in this scenario.

taylor December 26, 2007 at 2:49 am

In complete agreement with comments posted above–I’m a vegitarian and do not eat junk food if at all possible–and find myself paying an arm and a leg more for my healthy diet than I ever would for a box of donuts…take a trip to the grocery store man, THEN write me an article!

Eric December 26, 2007 at 8:40 am

An interesting speculation on your part, to be sure. I certainly hope you don’t get paid by “subsribers” to produce this kind of “journalism”. Maybe you could get a blog started, however. Have you tried MySpace? Cool photos there.

Ron December 26, 2007 at 10:41 am

What a load of garbage. Have you actually gone to the store and compared prices on healthy vs junk food? Junk food=cheap and bad for you. Normal food=more expensive but better for you. Organic food=very healthy and very expensive. We looked at an organic turkey for Christmas, it was $70. The hormone raised, antibiotic injected ones were $20 or less. Compare the price of Mac & Cheese vs fresh fruit and vegetables. Eating healthy is expensive, and people spreading stupid ideas like this article are not helping the problem.

Selome December 26, 2007 at 10:46 am

Creative. But ultimately not well-thought out. If anything, rising prices in food will cause manufacturers to use subpar chemical ingredients, even moreso than they already do, to comprise their offerings. Which will lead to issues with malnutrition and drive the cost of health care even higher. The level at which my generation subsists off of boxed macaroni and cheese is quite frightening. I can’t imagine what will happen to diabetes levels when cheap sugars and chemical byproducts are the only thing you can afford to buy.

Amity December 26, 2007 at 10:57 am

Actually I just read an article the other day about food costs in corolation to a proper diet. On average a person can eat processed high calorie foods on an average of a dollar a day, in order to match the calorie intake with healthy foods it goes up to almost 35 dollars a day.
With cheaper processed foods there is so much filler that you end up eating twice as much as you would the healthy alternatives in order for your body to get everything it needs. No matter how much excercise you get in a day you will always be at a disadvantage for getting rid of the excess, you are also going to get a lovely lack of energy from not getting the right stuff from you diet.
Rising prices will seriously hinder Obese america with 10 cent raman noodles and $1 menus everywhere the only way low income families might be tempted by nurtius foods is if they are poor enough for food stamps and Uncle Sam is footing the bill, though the problem with that is that usally at that point they’ve been raised on twinkies, coke and canned meat product and don’t know the first thing about proper nutrition.

Amanda (Me vs Debt) December 27, 2007 at 8:37 am

Eating less definitely doesn’t make you healthier. I’m sure you’re aware that nutritional value and calorie density are often inversely proportional.

Calls Out December 27, 2007 at 4:20 pm

Nice try… no quick fix remedies to our national disease however… less spending power = better health? A novel theory, definately not one I’ve heard before. Get off our lazy asses and do some exercise – and teach our children to eat properly. Stop hoping it will “all be ok in the end” because we will die (as will our poorly raised children).

Kenneth December 27, 2007 at 6:44 pm

Being morbidly obese myself, and having come from a childhood of receiving food from a food pantry, and having just applied for health insurance, you’re flawed on both angles:

First, I started gaining weight around 8 years old, coincidentally, that was when my parents where running out of money (and their marriage started falling apart). Coincidence? Hmm, well I can say that free food from a food pantry is mostly junk. Also, as you said, calories are calories, so if you need fuel to survive, you’ll pick the cheapest high calorie food you can find. Obviously, that leads to the health issues, which brings me to the…

Second, health care costs and obesity have less to do with each other than health care costs smokers. I looked, and I couldn’t find any hard facts about obesities’ real cost to insurance companies, but the information for smokers is pretty easy to find. The thing is, obesity is something they can test for and quantify as a way to charge you more, because in theory, you can loose weight if you want to be insured. Same with smokers, except there’s certainly more research to show smokers will require more medical care in the long run.

Another point about higher health care expenses for the overweight that doesn’t compute, what about the trim and fit who need knee surgery because they climb rocks, ride bikes and play basketball and break their knees’ ACL? Using my brother, who’s 1/2 my weight as an example, his knee surgery cost his issuer over $80,000. In my entire lifetime, 21 years of being overweight, 15+ of being class 3 morbidly obese), I think I’ve had maybe $3,000 – $4,000 worth of medical care ever, most of which has been self paid because I’ve only had health insurance for 3.5 years of my whole life. The fact is, I’m 29 and 370lbs, and I’m not going to go climb a mountain or do some of the activities that could cause me to break a leg or arm. So, sedentary lifestyle can save insurance companies in a different way. Not to mention, how many fat people die suddenly saving health care companies tons of money? What about treating AIDS, cancer, injuries and other genetic disorders? Umm, yeah, being fat doesn’t amount to the large percentage of our health care costs… of course I’m biased, so take it for what you will.

Lou October 25, 2008 at 8:56 pm

I don’t trust food suppliers to look after our health. I’ve bought cheap imported garlic that was toxic (watered from sewage in China), I’ve bought cheap water melon that tasted so strongly of detergent (watered with untreated grey water), the list is endless. Unfortunately today the dollar matters more to our suppliers than quality (processed or so called fresh).

I believe that in the coming depression will ensure that we go back to basics & grow our own food (the four pillars that hold up our economy have been swaying for some time, talk to those that lived through the great depression they know it’s on its way).

The taste of home grown produce is second to none, now is time to plan ahead, set up community gardens, coops & do what we can in our own backyards.

I live in the city & have only a little space, but I use every square inch of it. With the help of aquaponics, I have faith that even here I can provide for most of my family’s diet in these uncertain times.

Don’t just complain about food prices & quality…. do something about it!

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