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Cheap Food Trumps Healthy During Recession

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama presided at a groundbreaking for a garden on the White House lawn.

Her plan is to educate children about healthy food options. Her hope is that "they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities."

This message is timely. With less money to spend, consumers are more likely to turn to cheaper food options that lack high nutritional value.

For example, Dollar Menu sales are credited to McDonald's 5.4 percent sales increase in the U.S. this January. Though McDonald's and others in the fast food business do offer healthy options, the reality is that economic recessions test the resolve and pocketbook of even the most health-conscious individuals and families.

(AP Photo)
The math is simple — can you afford a $3 organic apple or $7 bag of organic granola versus a $1 McDouble Burger? Many will say no, despite the fact that an unhealthy diet can foster long-term consequences like obesity or heart problems that an economic recovery won't suddenly fix.

Adam Drewnowski, the director of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Washington, told Reuters, that obesity is a "toxic result of a failing economic environment" and predicted that, to save money, people "will be eating more empty calories or foods high in sugar, saturated fats and refined grains."

To be fair, the Obamas have done more than just plant symbolic seeds. President Obama's stimulus plan includes an extra $20 billion for food stamps which could be very important as the recession goes on.

But food stamps can come with their own set of problems. According to research conducted by UCLA and PolicyLink, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, there is "a lack of access to healthy foods in many low-income communities across the country, particularly in low-income communities of color."

So if food stamp recipients live in low-income areas, they are less likely not just to purchase healthy food but even have access to it in the first place.

"The picture is complicated," said Judith Bell, PolicyLink's president, but what's clear is "the need for policies that increase access to healthy and affordable food."