NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Five Myths about Healthy Eating

October 20, 2011

With first lady Michelle Obama urging everyone to get moving, obesity remains a political hot potato.  Below, Katherine Mangu-Ward, the managing editor of Reason Magazine, exposes five myths about eating healthy and the effectiveness of political fixes.

Myth One: People in poor neighborhoods lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Not having a supermarket in your ZIP code isn't the last word in access to healthy food -- according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 93 percent of "food desert" dwellers have access to a car.
  • Moreover, a study published this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine found proximity to a grocery store or supermarket doesn't increase consumption of healthy food.

Myth Two: Advertising forces people to make unhealthy choices.

  • The Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, has concluded that "current evidence is not sufficient to arrive at any finding about a causal relationship from television advertising to adiposity [excess weight] among children and youth."
  • Similar findings hold true for adults.

Myth Three: Eating healthy is too expensive.

  • A survey by the USDA found that, by weight, bottled water is cheaper than soda, low-fat milk is cheaper than high-fat, and whole fruit is cheaper than processed sweet snacks.
  • Making junk food comparatively pricier by tacking on taxes -- a popular policy option -- mostly means that people will pay more taxes, not eat more kale.

Myth Four: People need more information about what they eat.  A recent study from Ghent University in Belgium found that labels made no difference in the consumption patterns of students there, backing up a 2009 New York University study that found no improvement in poor New Yorkers' eating habits after the introduction of mandatory menu labeling.

Myth Five: There are too many fast-food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods.  The same study that found no effect on diet from increased access to fruits and vegetables also found that proximity to fast-food restaurants had only a small effect, and it was limited to young, low-income men.

Source: Katherine Mangu-Ward, "Five Myths about Healthy Eating," Washington Post, October 14, 2011.

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