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The rising disparity in the price of healthful foods: 2004-2008


  • Monsivais, Pablo
  • Mclain, Julia
  • Drewnowski, Adam


Nutrient-dense foods that are associated with better health outcomes tend to cost more per kilocalorie (kcal) than do refined grains, sweets and fats. The price disparity between healthful and less healthful foods appears to be growing. This study demonstrates a new method for linking longitudinal retail price data with objective, nutrient-based ratings of the nutritional quality of foods and beverages. Retail prices for 378 foods and beverages were obtained from major supermarket chains in the Seattle, WA for 2004-2008. Nutritional quality was based on energy density (kcal/g) and two measures of nutrient density, calculated using the Naturally Nutrient Rich (NNR) score and the Nutrient Rich Foods index (NRF9.3). Food prices were expressed as $/100 g edible portion and as $/1000 kcal. Foods were stratified by quintiles of energy and nutrient density for analyses. Both measures of nutrient density were negatively associated with energy density and positively associated with cost per 1000 kcal. The mean cost of foods in the top quintile of nutrient density was $27.20/1000 kcal and the 4-year price increase was 29.2%. Foods in the bottom quintile cost a mean of $3.32/1000 kcal and the 4-year price increase was 16.1%. There is a growing price disparity between nutrient-dense foods and less nutritious options. Cost may pose a barrier to the adoption of healthier diets and so limit the impact of dietary guidance. Nutrient profiling methods provide objective criteria for tracking retail prices of foods in relation to their nutritional quality and for guiding food and nutrition policy.

Suggested Citation

  • Monsivais, Pablo & Mclain, Julia & Drewnowski, Adam, 2010. "The rising disparity in the price of healthful foods: 2004-2008," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(6), pages 514-520, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:35:y:2010:i:6:p:514-520

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Leibtag, Ephraim S. & Kaufman, Phillip R., 2003. "Exploring Food Purchase Behavior of Low-Income Households: How Do They Economize?," Agricultural Information Bulletins 33711, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    2. Putnam, Judy & Allshouse, Jane & Kantor, Linda Scott, 2002. "U.S. Per Capita Food Supply Trends: More Calories, Refined Carbohydrates, and Fats," Food Review: The Magazine of Food Economics, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, vol. 25(3).
    3. Miller, J. Corey & Coble, Keith H., 2007. "Cheap food policy: Fact or rhetoric?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 98-111, February.
    4. Frazao, Elizabeth & Meade, Birgit Gisela Saager & Regmi, Anita, 2008. "Converging Patterns in Global Food Consumption and Food Delivery Systems," Amber Waves, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:jfpoli:v:69:y:2017:i:c:p:207-217 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Hadjikakou, Michalis, 2017. "Trimming the excess: environmental impacts of discretionary food consumption in Australia," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 119-128.
    3. Wang, Emily & Rojas, Christian & Bauner, Christoph, 2015. "Evolution of nutritional quality in the US: Evidence from the ready-to-eat cereal industry," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 133(C), pages 105-108.
    4. repec:eee:jfpoli:v:74:y:2018:i:c:p:212-224 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Bradbear, Catherine & Friel, Sharon, 2013. "Integrating climate change, food prices and population health," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 56-66.


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