My economics professor shared that some academics believe that low-income people may choose less healthy foods not only because they are lower in cost, but because low-income people have less of an incentive to stay healthy. This makes sense to me. Part of my motivation in exercising and eating well is that I enjoy hiking, and want to be able to hike up and down a mountain for a 20 mile stretch. If I didn’t have access to the mountains or the gear required to enjoy the great outdoors, one of my incentives for staying healthy would cease to exist. The same logic can be applied to low-income populations. If someone cannot afford to do activities that require a fit body and sound nutrition, they may have less of an incentive to eat well. The question is, how significant is this factor? Is it enough of a factor to lessen the impact of our progress in making healthy food accessible and affordable? Should we be developing interventions that not only increase healthy food access and lower its cost, but also offer people opportunities to enjoy the benefits of improved nutrition? It seems as though this would be a more comprehensive, and perhaps effective, approach, but then we must ask, how far do we stretch our role? At what point does the responsibility for motivation fall on individuals?
This article by the economist Jim Binkley explores whether or not lower cost foods will result in low-income people choosing healthier foods, and why or why not. He has published a few articles on this topic, all of which are worth reading.