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Spending less on food can bring weight gain

March 23, 2009|Karen Ravn

Cutting back on spending may not mean cutting down on calories.

The more "energy dense" a food is -- i.e., the more calories it contains per unit weight -- the less it costs per calorie. For instance, the lowest-cost vegetables, per calorie, are potatoes; and the sugar in fresh raspberries is 100 times more expensive per calorie than table sugar.

As prices of foods go down, the purchases of those foods go up, and vice versa. Between 2004 and 2006, the prices of very-high-calorie foods dropped by an average of 1.8%, while the prices of very-low-calorie foods went up by an average of 19.5%.

Here's where we stand now: More than 1 in 3 adult Americans are obese -- 33.3% of men and 35.3% of women. The rates have more than doubled since the late 1970s.

Spending on food is down by $56 billion this January compared with January 2008, according to the Commerce Department. That could mean we're eating less food -- or just less-expensive food.

A September 2008 survey found that Americans had made these changes in their eating habits because of the bad economy:

* 43% were eating out less often than they used to.

* 39% were eating at less expensive restaurants.

* 35% had started packing a lunch for work.

* 32% had started eating more leftovers.

* 32% were buying more store-label groceries instead of name brands.

* 30% were ordering less food when they went out to eat.

* 22% were drinking tap water instead of soda and noncarbonated drinks.

-- Karen Ravn

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Sources: 2004 University of Washington study published in Nutrition Today; 2007 University of Washington study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 2008 Consumer Spending Behavior Study conducted by Booz & Co.

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