Is Poor Nutrition a Supply Problem or a Demand Problem? | No Stupid Questions with Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth

Check out the No Stupid Questions episode page

Key Takeaways

  • Poor nutrition is a 90% demand problem and only a 10% supply problem
  • Healthy food has an uphill narrative battle against unhealthy food
    • More expensive, less ready to prepare, low-shelf life, less caloric, and the list goes on
  • “If there is a way to increase demand for healthy food, without making people feel bad, that’s going to be the trick” – Angela Duckworth
    • It worked with smoking cigarettes, why can’t it work with food?
    • Implementing taxes on unhealthy food and subsidizing healthy food could help ignite a much needed social and cultural change
  • What other societal topics miscalculate supply and demand problems?
    • Bipartisan politicians: everyone complains there are none, but no one wants their politicians to compromise
    • Sleep: people always say they don’t get enough sleep, but it’s not for lack of time–they choose to do other things

Intro

  • The No Stupid Questions podcast covers how the demand for healthy food isn’t due to low accessibility, but rather, societal factors that are more deeply embedded
  • Hosts: Stephen Dubner (@Freakonomics) and Angela Duckworth (@angeladuckw)

Food Deserts: Supply or Demand Problem?

  • Food Desert: an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.
  • Food Deserts and the Causes of Nutritional Inequality argues that food deserts do not cause people in low-income neighborhoods to eat worse
    • Their data claims it’s a 90% demand problem and only a 10% supply problem
    • “And the prediction would be: If it’s a supply problem, then, when one of these supermarkets opens and finally you have somewhere other than C.V.S. or Popeyes to get food, you flock there, and you start eating differently. And, in fact, they found that that did not happen much.” – Angela Duckworth
    • “If the problem of generally poor nutrition were caused by low supply, that would be amazing, because supply is pretty fixable.” – Stephen Dubner
  • What other societal topics miscalculate supply and demand problems?
    • Bipartisan politicians: everyone complains there are none, but no one wants their politicians to compromise
    • Sleep: people always say they don’t get enough sleep, but it’s not for lack of time–they choose to do other things

The Culture of Food

  • When and how do people learn to eat?
    • Generally, your family and culture shape your eating habits and flavor palate from a very early age
    • All of us can evolve but embedded habits about food can be tough to break
  • Healthy food has an uphill narrative battle against unhealthy food
    • More expensive, less ready to prepare, low-shelf life are all negative factors of healthy food
    • Social influences too, nobody says let’s go get a salad, they say let’s go get a burger and a beer
    • Healthy foods also tend to be less caloric, our evolutionary past tells us to crave salt and fat when it’s accessible; this is simply a survival trait
    • Long-term benefits of consistently eating healthy are often difficult to visualize
  • Calorie counts on fast food menus are often counter-productive
    • High-calorie counts don’t scare customers away; instead, it translates to getting more bang for your buck

Changing the Narrative

  • “If there is a way to increase demand for healthy food, without making people feel bad, that’s going to be the trick” – Angela Duckworth
    • It worked with smoking cigarettes, why can’t it work with food?
  • Taxes on unhealthy products could help skew demand in favor of healthy food choices
    • “Tax the hell out of soda and subsidize fruits and vegetables” – Angela Duckworth
  • Education > Accessibility
    • We know accessibility to healthy food doesn’t drastically change demand, so we must invest in education
    • Education -> income -> purchase decisions – this flow can compound both viciously and virtuously
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Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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