Causes of the Obesity Epidemic ~ Stats: Food Costs
In this series of who knows how many posts, I'm just going to put out graphs either directly obtained from U.S. Per Capita Food Supply Trends, or constructed from data upon which this report was prepared from the USDA. Now there's no right or wrong data set, but I tend to believe supply data over self-report consumption data, given the plethora of data showing wide discrepancies between reported and actual intake. While we Americans can be a wasteful sort, the USDA has adjusted the supply data to include waste from 1970 forward. And for all the flack over food being big business, we also know that what doesn't get sold (and consumed) eventually doesn't get produced any more. Thus while actual consumption may not be determined with great accuracy, there's little reason to believe that they don't track to the availability/supply.
So, that said, one of the discussions that was going on in comments was about the cost of foods, so I thought I'd put up this graphic for discussion.
- All foods increased roughly 60% in price, approximately in line with meats and dairy.
- Fresh fruit & veggies increased almost twice the prices of all foods averaged, while all fruit and veggie prices still increased 50% more than all foods.
- Cereal & bakery product (aka grain) prices rose faster than all foods,
- Fish prices also rose faster than all foods, comparable to grain products
- Dairy rose roughly in line with all foods
- Red meat and poultry prices rose only slightly less than all foods, and roughly only two-thirds as much as grain product prices rose.
- Carbonated beverage prices rose the least, roughly one-third as much as all foods.
- Sugar and sweets (presumably not including carbonated beverages) prices increased comparably to egg prices, roughly three-quarters the increase for all foods.
- Fats increased in price just a little over half the price increases for all foods.
It is important to keep in mind that these are only percent increases and not reflective of absolute price. But these data would indicate that relative changes in price do not appear to be a driving force for increased consumption of many "bad foods" nor reduced consumption of "good foods", with perhaps the quite notable relative cheapness of carbonated -- presumably mostly sugary since diet sodas are a fraction of the market -- beverages. I've also got to point out that these are price changes for the particular foods/groups, and not for cost relative to one another or cost per calorie or gram protein or whatever.
One of the things that bothers me when I watch news reports and documentaries trying to ferret out the causes of the epidemic is this myth that fast food is cheap. It's not, it is expensive, especially when one considers the alternatives. In some cases it may be cheap per calorie, but it is all the more expensive per unit of nutrition (protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fats).
OK ... a little politics. Based on the cost changes above and seeing as consumption patterns don't seem to follow what economics would dictate, how do we get people to stop eating crap? Let's face it, whether we agree or disagree on any recommendation to eat grains, the breading on fried chicken, Fritos and Cap'n Crunch is not what anyone has/had in mind. So the fact that people are buying this stuff as a matter of course cannot be blamed on the recommendations of others, government or otherwise. When we seek to influence behavior through the force of government in "free" societies, we do it with taxes. I just saw a report on the news that in my state, NY, with the highest ciggy taxes in the nation, the poor spend almost 1/4 of their income on cigarettes. Worse yet, these draconian taxes have not curtailed smoking in this population. Now people can argue on and on amongst themselves over what a good life is for their chickens before they eat them, and they can form non-profits and crusade to end the obesity epidemic, but it makes me almost physically ill to listen to those who think taxing so-called fattening foods is going to be the answer. We hear: it's for their own good, nobody needs fill-in-the-blank-bad-food/drink, it's almost like smoking because their poor health effects us all. As with cigarettes, taxes on foods like sodas will do little more than disproportionately penalize the poor because they disproportionately consume these foods. The answer to these problems, if there is one, is education. Those who don't believe that must somehow believe that the poor are too stupid or ignorant to be educated and/or they won't act appropriately (to some elitist arbitrary standard) on the information provided.
But at least you'll be sticking it to Coca Cola and Pepsi, right? ;-) [/ politics]