Research: Lower Prices on Healthy Foods May Improve Diet Quality

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Lower Prices on Healthy Foods May Help Prevent Obesity

Potato Chips

Potato Chips

It is obvious that the key to weight loss is making healthy decisions.  I have written multiple articles on the benefits of adding portion control, high-fiber foods, and fruits and vegetables to your diet.  The evidence is clear that moderation and good food choices are the keys to weight loss and control.  The number of articles in recent years that advocates for sugar or fat taxes to raise the prices on less healthy choices is growing.  The question is: will raising the price of unhealthy choices or lowering the price of healthy foods make a difference in food choice and weight gain?

A recent study from July of 2017 look at this question[1].  The article, “Neighborhood Prices of Healthier and Unhealthier Foods and Associations with Diet Quality: Evidence from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis,” was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.  The study looked at whether the price of food influences the purchasing and consumption decisions.  Before this journal article, little work has been completed to examine if the price of healthier food relative to unhealthier food is associated with overall dietary quality.  The study used the data from the cross-sectional person-level data came from The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis from 2010-2012.  The researchers compared supermarket food/beverage prices came for each individual in the study.  The researchers found that healthier foods cost nearly twice as much as unhealthier foods per serving and that the odds of subject buying unhealthy choices geo sup with the price difference between the two choices.  

I do not believe in sin taxes to punish those who make poor choices.  I wrote an article on sin taxes on sugar and soda taxes in the past, and I just feel that they punish those who are poor or middle class disproportionally.  I would suggest alternatively that it makes more sense to subsidize fruits and vegetables.  Lowering the price of healthy choices would have the same effect without being punitive.  

The bottom line: Healthy foods cost more than unhealthy snack foods.  Subjects tended to buy and consume more fo the cheap, unhealthy choices.  More research is needed, but policies to address the large price differences between healthier and unhealthy foods may help improve diet quality in the United States.

Footnotes
[1]Kern et al., “Neighborhood Prices of Healthier and Unhealthier Foods and Associations with Diet Quality: Evidence from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis.”
Kern, David M., Amy H. Auchnicloss, Mark F. Stehr, Ana V. Diez Roux, Latetia V. Moore, Genevieve P. Kanter, and Lucy F. Robinson. “Neighborhood Prices of Healthier and Unhealthier Foods and Associations with Diet Quality: Evidence from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 14, no. 11 (November 16, 2017): 1394. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14111394.
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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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