Special Report: What's wrong with eating right?

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Compared to 30 years ago, shoppers are paying a lot more for fruits and vegetables now.

"You could buy oranges back then for a dime," said shopper Jean Tresch. "Now, they're like a dollar. And a tomato? Forget about it."

A chart from the bureau of labor statistics shows vegetables cost 41 percent more now than they did in 1978. Fruits cost 46 percent more. What's gone down? Butter is 29 percent cheaper And soda is 33 percent cheaper. Why the big difference?

"Production costs," said farmer J. B. Turner, Jr. "The cost of fertilizer and fuel."

Add to that a little supply and demand. People aren't buying as much of the healthier stuff when they can get the not-so-good-for-you stuff cheaper and faster.

"It is a whole lot easier to run through a fast food place or run into a grocery store and grab something that's already prepared," said Andrea Dye.

That's a choice many of us make, but more and more people have to make that choice.

"As the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables go up, the lower income people simply cannot afford to eat these things on a regular basis," said Dr. Barbara Jones, an economist at Alabama A&M University.

Add fixed income to that list.

"It's sad, but it's the poor man's illness really," added Tresch. "You're kind of stuck. You want to eat, but you got few choices."

The pricing trend and those few choices go hand in hand with the trend that men and women are, on average, 15 to 25 pounds heavier today.

"I know," said Tresch. "I put on over 100 pounds over 40 years because of it's easier to buy a soda and a bag of chips."

So, what happens in the next 10 or 20 years? All indications are that the chart will keep moving roughly in the same direction, with fresh fruits and vegetables costing that much more than items like soda.

Can you break that trend? Economists and nutritionists say yes.

"That's where we have to go in and teach everybody what good healthy eating is all about," said Linda Steakley, a wellness dietician at Huntsville Hospital.

J. B. Turner sells vegetables at the farmer's market. "All they have to do is go to the County Extension office and get new recipes and all to prepare these fruits and vegetables, and they would have a nutritious meal without paying a lot for it," he said.

"I could feed my boys on six dollars worth of mashed potatoes, actually probably two or three times," said Dye. "Where if I go to a grocery store and get two bags of potato chips for six dollars, each one of them will sit and eat a bag, and it'll be gone."

People on government assistance can get vouchers for fruits and vegetables for farmers markets. And for everyone, there are coupons available to make it easier to buy fresh fruits and veggies.

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