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Studying the link between cheap food, obesity

Our food is cheap – perhaps too cheap, if you look at the intersection of economics and obesity.

Researchers have found that obesity hits all groups of Americans – those with more money and education and those with less. That, and some other findings, challenge the common views about what’s fueling obesity in the United States.

“Some widely held beliefs about obesity and environments have little evidence in their favor, and some are contradicted by the data,” the researchers wrote in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The researchers acknowledge that there are disparities in weight and health among groups of Americans, but they said that trends toward obesity occur in all groups.

Today, two in three Americans are overweight or obese.

Americans are spending a smaller share of their income on food than any other society in history, and since 1970 there has been an average per-person increase in calories of 20 percent, the researchers said. Prices for prepared foods have become particularly cheap, but produce also is more widely available than ever.


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Consumption of produce has increased during the obesity epidemic, they said.

“Not only has food been getting cheaper, but it is easier to acquire and easier to prepare,” said Roland Sturm, lead author of the report and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “It’s not just that we may be eating more high-calorie food, but we are eating more of all types of food.”

The researchers called for policies that would address the need for people to replace calorie-dense foods with fruits and vegetables – not just add produce to what they already eat.

In the 1930s, American spent about 25 percent of their disposable income on food; today it’s about 10 percent.