Thanks, Harvard University, for debunking an excuse for us to eat junk food. Researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health have just released a study that, for the first time ever, scientifically evaluates the cost of eating a healthy diet versus an unhealthy one. The study concludes that just $1.50 makes up the difference between eating a nutritionally balanced diet and eating an extremely unhealthy diet.

Lead author of the study Mayuree Rao points out the common belief “that healthier foods are more expensive, and that such costs strongly limit better diet habit,” but this new research disproves that idea. Foods that comprise an unhealthy diet—like processed foods and refined grains—are still cheaper, but the cost difference from healthy foods—like fresh fruits, veggies, and fish—is surprisingly low.

The researchers suggest that unhealthy food may be inexpensive because food policies currently allow for “a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities that favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.” If these conditions were applied to the production of healthy food, researchers optimistically hypothesize that it could bring those food costs down and make them more readily available to consumers.

We can see this new information turning into material for a poignant ASPCA-style PSA for healthy eating: Cue Sarah McLachlan music: “For only $1.50 a day, that’s just $45 a month, you too could be saved from a junk food diet. Act now.” The only problem is, $1.50 more per day would increase food costs for one person by about $550 per year. This would represent a real burden for some families.

[via Harvard Gazette]