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