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The True Cost of Valentine’s Day

Love is in the air, which means that candies and chocolates are flying off the shelves around the country. Americans spent more than $19 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts last year, according to the National Retail Federation, with the average person spending more than $88 on their spouse. It will come as no surprise that the most popular gift was candy. The National Confectioners Association estimates that 83 percent of Americans will share candy with a loved one to celebrate Valentine’s Day. For some reason, we’re inclined to celebrate our sweethearts with sugary treats that are costly in both the short and long term.

According to a 2009 Nielsen report, Americans bought about 58 million pounds of chocolate in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day (the number has likely risen since then, but more recent data isn’t readily available). That adds up to tons of extra sugar that can impact our health and even the economy.

Consider this: an ounce of milk chocolate contains about 14.6 grams of sugar (dark chocolate has slightly less). That adds up to a whopping 232 grams of sugar in a pound of chocolate. Americans are lovingly gifting each other 1.3 billion grams of sugar in just one week. Yikes!

Each gram of sugar contains about 4 calories, meaning we’re adding more than 4 billion additional calories worth of sugar to our diets around February 14, not including the sugar found in the decadent meals and alcoholic drinks most people also consume to celebrate their love.

All of this additional sugar adds up. You’ll likely gain a pound if you consume 3,500 excess calories, which means Americans’ sugar consumption in the week before Valentine’s Day could lead to more than a million pounds being gained around the country. This has real implications for personal health and for healthcare costs around the nation. A 2013 report by Credit Suisse estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of Americans’ healthcare spending is on “issues that are closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar.” Each year, Americans spend an average of $3,136 per person on sugar-related healthcare expenses—and more sugar means more expenses.

There’s nothing sexy about spending on diabetes care or painkillers when you wake up with a sugar hangover. So, this Valentine’s Day, make a pact with your loved ones to skip the sweets. Instead, celebrate the people you love by doing activities that enrich your life, rather than focusing on gifts that are only sweet for a second. Get a massage together, take a cooking class, or exchange heartfelt notes where you remind each other that investing in your health is the best sign of love.

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