In 2004, University of Washington obesity researcher Adam Drewnowski discovered that consumers on a fixed budget can buy a lot more calories from processed foods and soft drinks than they can from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. He found that a single dollar could purchase 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips, but only 250 calories of carrots. One dollar could buy 875 calories of soft drink but only 170 calories of orange juice.
Research suggests that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be obese. To further examine the economic and calorie choices consumers face at the grocery store, we decided to expand on Drewnowski’s research and compare prices and calorie content of food based on typical serving sizes. We took 30 common supermarket items, from fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats to soft drinks and snacks, and compared their calories per serving, as well as their sodium and sugar per serving, with their price per serving. Our findings corroborate Drewnowski’s: Processed convenience foods and snack foods generally cluster towards the low cost and high calorie, high sodium, and high sugar section of the graph, while more nutritious and lower calorie options, like fresh meat and vegetables, fall on the expensive end of the spectrum.