Sunday, May 20, 2007

The High Cost of Losing Weight

I know other people have blogged about this before, but there's something that I really don't understand in the way our government subsidizes farming. The government and health watch industries have been complaining for years about how obesity is exploding in the United States, but the way our economy works, it's cheaper to be fat unless you have serious health problems.

Wheat, rice, tobacco, dairy, soybean, peanut, sugar, and honey farmers, among others, received over 8 billion dollars in farm subsidies in 2004. Although it's great those farmers are getting help, because farming can be a really tough business, I also wonder what it's doing to our health as a nation.

Take, for example, the results you see at the grocery store. The last time we went to the store, we discovered we could buy instant ramen soup, which is high in fat, sodium and calories for 33 cents a cup. Bananas, on the other hand, which are actually healthy, cost 89 cents a pound. The last bunch of bananas we bought cost about $3.50 for about 6 servings of bananas. The same number of servings of ramen was only $2.

Now we are a solidly middle class family, so we can afford the $1.50 price difference. Still, over the course of the month, when you start making comparisons across dozens of products it adds up. Here's another scary comparison:
Tropicana 100% Orange Juice (64oz)$4.89
Sunny Delight (64oz)$1.99

Sunny Delight, for those not familiar with the product, is an orange-flavored drink made from the following ingredients: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup and 2% or Less of each of the Following: Concentrated Juices (Orange, Tangerine, Apple, Lime, Grapefruit), Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Natural Flavors, Modified Cornstarch, Canola Oil, Sodium Citrate, Cellulose Gum, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Sodium Benzoate to Protect Flavor, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6.

It leaves me shaking my head that our government is so busy complaining about how fat we are becoming as a nation, yet they are subsidizing unhealthy products like tobacco. When unhealthy kid-friendly snacks like a 10-pack of Twinkies is priced at $3.99 while 3-packs of healthy carrots and dip sell for $2.49, it's no darn wonder that kids (and adults) eat crap and people get fatter and fatter and fatter.

If if we forget the costs of eating healthy, there's still the cost of getting fit. In our area, gym memberships add up quick. If you are lucky enough to be heterosexual and married, you can get a family gym membership at the YMCA for $55 per month. If you aren't, then you have to buy individual memberships for everyone in the house for a total cost of $84 per month for two parents and one kid. Our municipal pool charges $3 per adult and $2 for children for a 2-hour swim. They have no discounts and no monthly fees, so if we take our kid swimming 3 times a week, we'd be forking out almost $100/month for the privilege. Another local gym which doesn't take kids wants $59/month if you are willing to let them electronically debit your account for a year. If you don't have a checking account, or you don't have a steady income and can't deal with electronic debiting, then you pay $78/month for two people. If you aren't willing to sign a 1-year contract, they'll let you use the gym on a month-to-month basis for $75 per person per month, or a whopping $150 for a couple.


If the cost of healthy food and gym memberships haven't ruined your monthly budget, the cost of joining a weight-loss plan can be even more astronomical. The Annals of American Medicine published An Evaluation of Major Commercial Weight Loss Programs in the United States (Adobe Acrobat required) in 2005 and discovered the estimated costs for a 3-month program were pretty steep:

Weight Watchers$167
Jenny Craig$1,249
Health Management Resources (medically supervised)$1,700-$2,100
Medifast$840 (doctor visits extra)$65
Take Off Pounds Sensibly$26
Overeaters Anonymous$0 (donations only)

If you are lucky enough to have medical insurance to cover it, medically-supervised programs like Health Management Resources, OPTIFAST and Medifast might be worthwhile, but you still have to figure in the cost of food, which can be pretty expensive. NutriSystem has been advertising heavily on television and in print. If you sign up for their program on an automatic renewal, you'll shell out a whopping $293.72/month for food for one person. Oh, and lets not forget that on their program you still have to buy your own fresh fruits and vegetables.

Although we are solidly middle class, and we don't have to make scary choices between ramen and fresh vegetables to feed our family each month, our budget isn't infinitely elastic. We can't afford to add $600/month to our food budget so we could join a program like NutriSystem, and we definitely couldn't afford a medically-supervised plan. Weight Watchers* is a maybe, but at $12/week for the two of us, the cost would add up fast, and I'm not sure we'd get much more benefit than going it alone.

It's no wonder we Americans are so fat. Given the way our economy is set up, we'll probably continue to be that way, too.

* As an aside, I joined Weight Watchers before (several times) and after a while the meetings got pretty boring. I got tired of listening to fat ladies bitch about the same five problems over and over. But then again, maybe I'm not cut out for weight loss in a group setting. After all, I got an "N" (needs improvement) on my report card in the category "works well with others" when I was a kid.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

HA!!! Preach on, sister! You crack me up! I attempted Weight Watchers, too, and got annoyed at the meetings. I did get a lot out of their information, point systems, etc. Apparently I'm not a "meeting kind a girl" either :-)

One of my biggest complaints about dieting (eating right--changing my lifestyle, etc) is how expensive it is! You are right! In a month, our grocery bill has gone up about 40%. I know we can do better but good grief!