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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Family Fundamentals: Healthy choices can have financial payoff (for August 2007)

August 14, 2007

My husband and I can't seem to stay motivated to eat better or live more healthfully in general. Any tips to help us stay on track?

There are plenty of reasons to choose to live healthfully -- you feel better, have more energy, and tend to get sick less often. But you probably knew that already. Another reason might not be as obvious: Living healthier tends to pay off in the pocketbook.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you're overweight, you can reduce your lifetime medical costs associated with hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and high cholesterol by $2,200 to $5,300 just by losing 10 percent of your body weight and keeping it off.

It might help to think in more immediate terms: Stop spending $5 a day on high-calorie coffees, vending machine snacks, fast food or cigarettes, and you'll save $1,825 a year, plus interest. If you save $15 a week by building meals around beans or soups instead of meat two or three times a week, you'll save $780 a year.

Simply increasing physical activity can have an impact. According to the CDC, more than half of American adults do not get enough physical activity to provide health benefits. The nation could save $5.6 billion in heart disease costs if 10 percent of adults began a regular walking program. According to a 1999 study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, inactivity is estimated to cost between $670 and $1,125 per person, per year, in related health-care costs.

One of the challenges in translating this kind of information to actually changing your behavior is that you don't always see immediate benefits. Taking a 30-minute walk today (and every day this week) won't necessarily save you $670 to $1,125 this year. In fact, you might have to spend some money to buy a pair of comfortable walking shoes. But think of it as an investment: Small but smart investments today can reap big rewards later. The key for many people is to start small.

The same can be said for financial savings goals (start by saving $20 a month, and you'll build good financial habits that will pay big dividends in the long run). In fact, Rutgers Cooperative Extension has designed a consumer program called "Small Steps to Health and Wealth" (online at that combines strategies to save money and live a healthier lifestyle. One of the key philosophies is that small remedies can make a difference. For example, reducing food portion sizes can cut calories and save money. The program is designed to help consumers pay more attention to their spending and lifestyle habits, and find easy ways to make little changes that will have big payoffs in health and wealth in the future.

Problems with money and with health tend to develop slowly -- but a slow and steady effort to address (or even prevent) those problems is goal worth striving for.

Dear Subscriber: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, family and consumer science/community development educator for OSU Extension in Butler County.

To get a PDF file e-mailed to you, contact Martha Filipic at


Martha Filipic
Dan Remley