Obesity Economics 101


I can’t afford to lose weight.

Wouldn’t that be a great excuse? However, when I tally the costs of my gym membership and fresh fruits and vegetables this time of year, it’s not unrealistic.


Healthy foods are more expensive. Lean meats cost more, and good luck finding a reasonably priced tomato. Why do packaged Oreos cost more than packaged salad?

My alma mater recently published a study that showed women on food stamps gain more weight. Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research spent 14 years comparing 6,000 food stamp users to 4,000 non-users, and found that women in the first category weighed more and gained weight more quickly than those not using food stamps. It’s just a fact: The affordability of unhealthy foods contribute to obesity in the U.S.

 I know there have been many times in the past when I’ve gone to the grocery store and spent less than three minutes in the produce section: onions, potatoes, gone. Now I spend about eight to 10, because I’m very picky, and want to get the most bang from the bucks. That means not buying oranges or apples by the bag, but choosing each, individually. I still prefer buying salad by the bag, but have gotten much better at shopping only when they’re on sale – and they’re always on sale, someplace.

Want asparagus? Fuggedaboudit. Here in N.C., it’s “on sale” at $3.79/lb. That’s about the same as a family-sized bag of Doritos. Salmon, tilapia, flounder? The cost per pound is the same as a two-layer cake from the bakery.

And that’s just putting the kitchen on a diet. For me, there’s the additional cost of a gym membership, weekly therapy and prescription meds, and we’re talking a monthly bite of more than $300 – and that doesn’t include groceries.

We’re also talking about the difference between expenses and investments. With one, you gain nothing but losses. With the other, you get dividends – weight loss, a healthier heart, stronger bones and likely a need for less medicine. With one, you have a net loss. With the other, a net gain.


This is only my second full week on this quest, and trust me, often it’s been a daily battle. For example, for my family’s dinner, I’ll make chicken and broccoli Alfredo, with hot sourdough rolls. For me, it’s baked chicken and roasted broccoli, hold the sourdough.  Would it be less expensive if I ate the same things I prepare for them? Not if one considers the cost of, say, blood pressure medicine, cholesterol medicine and a blood glucose monitor – none of which I have now, but would surely be in my future if I continued to let myself go.

So, yes, I can afford to lose weight. Because I can’t afford not to.

I have a great diet. You’re allowed to eat anything you want, but you must eat it with naked fat people. ~  Anonymous


Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.