Americans Spend Less on Groceries But Weigh More Than Ever

By Dana Shultz | Image viaLam Thuy Vo for NPR

American waistlines are expanding as overall grocery bills are shrinking. And “why,” you might ask? We’re spending our grocery money on junk.

According to recent research from NPR, American food spending has taken a turn for the worst in the last 30 years. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that comparatively, Americans spend a lot less money on food today than we did in 1982, and not on anything worthwhile either.Processed foods and sweets used to be one of the least purchased grocery store items, making up only 11.6 percent of the average American’s grocery budget, with meat coming in first at 31 percent, and fruits and veggies second at 14.5 percent.

But updated research shows that although Americans spend less money on groceries, they now spend more on junk with nearly 22.9 percent of their grocery budget going to processed foods and sweets. Meats take a close second at 21.5 percent, and fruits and vegetables land in third at 14.6 percent.

The ironic thing about spending less on food is that it ends up costing more both financially and physically in the long run. For starters, the less we feed our body real, whole foods, the less efficiently it will run – and vice versa. These “inefficiencies” often spell weight gain which we well know can lead to obesity and the many health risks tied to it such as Type-2 Diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. This is just one of the many reasons America has found itself in an obesity crisis we can’t seem to climb our way out of.

And then there’s the cost. Recent reports have shown that the United States spends more than $270 billion each year on obesity-related costs with $127 billion going to medical care, $49 billion going to cover the loss of productivity due to obesity-related deaths, and $115 billion to cover the costs of disability and the resulting loss of productivity because of disabled workers. The majority of these expenses could be avoided with preventative measures such as a nutrition counseling, switches to a healthy diet, and daily exercise. But despite knowing that information, the 36-plus percent of obese Americans can’t seem to make the switch.

But the real kicker is that a healthy diet really doesn’t cost more than an unhealthy one, according to another recent study from NPR that showed healthy food really doesn’t cost more than junk food -it’s just the common perception.

USDA spokesperson Andrea Carlson, stated that they came to this conclusion after finding that “fruits and especially vegetables come out much less expensive than less-healthy food items such as potato chips, cereals which are often high in sugar, and anything with a lot of fat such as cookies and pies.”

It goes to show that while we think we’re saving money by purchasing cheaper, unhealthy food, we’re really just hurting ourselves in the long run by upping our risk for health problems and the financial burdens they carry. In short, healthy food and a healthy lifestyle are always the wiser choices and longterm investments.

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Val M.
Val M4 years ago


Marianne B.
Marianne B5 years ago

I don't know about "healthy" food as being as expensive as junk food. The last time I went to a health store for organic fruits and veggies, the price was very high compared to a farmer's mkt. ot grocery store.So were the healthy coffee,beans,lentils, packaged products. In checking out,with edamame and tomatoes,the person in front of me had a $200. charge for her healthy foods. Something , I for one, cannot afford. Another of our problems, are the "fast food" drive throughs. I know they are now trying to offer healthier things, still not up to par.

J.L. A.
j A5 years ago

interesting correlation--but remember correlations do not mean causation

Mrs Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare5 years ago

It wont take long before the whole world starts doing this. I or fresh foods arent just expensive in America; they are expensive everywhere :/
And Kath, stop judging complete strangers like that. Its just creepy, hun xD

Kath R.
Kath P5 years ago

I like to look into peoples shopping carts to see what they're going to buy. Most of what I see is junk food including sugary cereals and great big steaks. Very little fruit or vegetables.

Amber Beasley
Amber Beasley5 years ago

I eat very healthy - and vegan majority of the time - and I still spend hardly any money on groceries. you can eat healthy AND cheap, by planning meals, buying bulk, eating in season, etc. but most people eat cheap and unhealthy. it's sad.

paul m.
paul m5 years ago


Sarah M.
Sarah M5 years ago

Thanks for the article!

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago

filler foods cost less

Rena B.
Rena B5 years ago

Eating healthily doesn't cost more than eating junk and processed food, and you feel so much better for it. It just needs a bit of education and the information is easily accessible. Any sensible government would spend money on educating about healthy lifestyles and it would save millions of dollars, untold misery and pain and thousands of deaths. But the multinational food and drug companies want bigger and bigger profits, and they are the real rulers of most countries - and they don't care about individuals' health or sickness.