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2/15/11 8:17 P

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Excerpted from journalist Daniel Akst:

Everyone likes a bargain So as part of a laudable five-year initiative to make foods it sells healthier, Wal-Mart stores plans to cut the price of its fruits and vegetables. The hope is that people will then buy more of them.
There is a story going around out there that many Americans aren't eating healthy foods because they can't afford it. ..
But the great majority of Americans - not just the poor - aren't eating healthy, and most are affluent enough not to be bothered by the cost of carrots and squash ...

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, publishes a newsletter called Amber Waves, which reports on the agency's economic research. ... The USDA economists report that fruit and vegetable purchases aren't very sensititve to price - and neither are snack food purchases, which is why subsidizing arugula and taxing Cheetos are likely to be equally ineffective. In a 2008 study, USDA economists looked at households below 130 percent of the poverty line (a cutoff for food stamps) and found that small increases in income were not spent on fruits and vegetables. "These foods do not appear to be a priority for most low-income households," the authors wrote.

In households earning up to 185 percent of the poverty line, a 10 percent increase in income did lead to higheer spending on fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, the increase was less than 2 percent - which is awfully close to zero..

Another USDA report (reflecting that the problem is not really lack of access to produce sellers) notes that just 2.2 percent of households live more than a mile from a supermarket adnd lack access to a vehicle (to get them there). In other words, 98 percent of American families either live near a supermarket or can drive to one.

On top of all this, Wal-Mart's prices for produce, like all the other groceries it sells, are already quite low. That's probably why it's by far the nation's leading grocer.

Human behavior is hard to change - particularly when eating is involved. Let's face it: Americans aren't avoiding healthy foods because we can't afford them. We love a bargain, sure. Just not on Brussels sprouts.

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