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The Total Health and Climate Consequences of the American Food System Cost Three Times as Much as the Food Itself

A new report provides a roadmap to creating a post-pandemic food system with greater fairness, fewer adverse climate impacts and better health outcomes.

The true cost of food is even higher than you think, a new report out Thursday says.

The United States spends $1.1 trillion a year on food. But when the impacts of the food system on different parts of our society — including rising health care costs, climate change and biodiversity loss — are factored in, the bill is around three times that, according to a report by the Rockefeller Foundation, a private charity that funds medical and agricultural research.

Using government statistics, scientific literature and insights from experts across the food system, the researchers quantified things like the share of direct medical costs attributable to diet and food, as well as the productivity loss associated with those health problems. They also looked at how crop cultivation and ranching, and other aspects of U.S. food production impacted the environment. Focusing on the production, processing, distribution, retail and consumption stages of the food system (not including food service), they evaluated what it would cost to restore people’s health, wealth or environment back to an undamaged state, as well as the cost of preventing a recurrence of the problems.