It's been pretty obvious to my wife and myself that to eat 'well' in the US you need to be 'rich.'

Finally, a news story from NPR's Morning Edition that quantifies this succinctly. (Obesity Often Linked to Income Americans eat about 50 percent of their meals in restaurants and fast-food counters, a habit tied to the nation's obesity epidemic.)

The median household income in the US is currently hovering at about $42,000.  If your family earns more than this, you could consider yourself rich - certainly not poor. 

The median family apparently spends about $25 per person per week on food (($3.50/day or $1300/year - approximately 12% of gross income; probably closer to 25% once you have deducted taxes, insurance premiums, and housing).  Thus half of the United States can afford about $1.80 per 1000 calories per day, assuming a 2000 Calorie diet.

Now come the interesting numbers.

If you limit yourself to 2000 Calories a day and to Oreo cookies (not that you would!), you can manage on $1.50.  If you stuck to apples, that would cost you about $8-$10 a day for the same 2000 Calories.

More realistically, bread, chips, cookies, and off-the-shelf prepared foods run about $1 per 1000 Calories.  Whereas fresh fruit, fruit juices, and fresh produce will cost you about $5-$10/1000 Calories.  If you add lean meats and fish to the mix, your costs go even higher.  The Atkins diet has apparently been costed at $15 per person per day (at $5,500 per person per year, that's more than four times what the median American can afford!)

This more or less confirms another new story I remember from many years ago, where one of the people interviewed ate 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, at McDonalds, because that was all he could afford.

If you assume that a good, employer-provided health insurance plan costs about $3,600 today, that is 3(!) times what the median American spends on food. (Admitedly, the health plan usually covers the whole family - still the cost of food and health care are now almost comparable.)  For each overweight/obese person in the family, add a 10%-20% premium for additional healthcare expenses.

Now that you can get your HMO to pay for your quit-smoking and weight-loss programs, how long before they start contributing to your groceries too?

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