Industries in Depth

The true cost of food is three times what Americans pay for it

A table full of foods of every kind.

Human health was the greatest driver of hidden food costs by far at $1.1 trillion. Image: Unsplash/Christopher Williams

Niall McCarthy
Data Journalist, Statista
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Agriculture, Food and Beverage

  • The cost of food and the expense to human health/ the environment has been released by the Rockefeller Foundation.
  • Whilst the current national expenditure is around $1.1 trillion, the true cost of food is predicted to be closer to $3.2 trillion.
  • That's when you include the human health implications, like cancer and diabetes, as well as the cost on the environment and biodiversity.

The Rockefeller Foundation has released a new report which has found that Americans are only paying a third of their food's true value. The research states that total U.S. food expenditure comes to an estimated $1.1 trillion each year, including production, processing and retail and wholesale costs while excluding post-retail costs like food service, preparation and disposal. The level of expenditure rises dramatically when hidden factors absent from the retail price are brought into the equation. Such costs include human health complications, biodiversity loss, enviornmental impact and the effects of the economy. Collectively, they add an estimated $2.1 trillion, bringing the true cost of food to $3.2 trillion annually.

Human health was the greatest driver of hidden food costs by far at $1.1 trillion. Taking direct medical costs attributable to diet and productivity loss into account, obesity resulted in $359 billion in costs while further health complications like hypertension, cancer and diabetes added up to a further $600 billion. The report states that "understanding the true cost of the food we consume is a first and necessary step towards remaking the incentive structure that drives our food system today and, ultimately, transforming it". It also adds that the problem "disproportionately burdens people of color who are more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases, have less access to water and sanitation, and often work in food production jobs for less than a living wage".

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The true cost of food is three times what Americans pay for it.
Human health was the greatest driver of hidden food costs by far at $1.1 trillion. Image: Statista
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Industries in DepthFood and WaterHealth and Healthcare Systems
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