Cheap unhealthy food makes healthy food choices much less likely

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People are more likely to eat healthier foods such as vegetables when they are closer in price to unhealthier foods, US research reveals.
Scientists from Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health made this conclusion following an investigation on the effect that price difference has on diet quality in the US.
They examined data from 2,765 people, which was linked to food prices at supermarkets in their neighbourhoods.
The price of groceries was broken down into two groups: healthier and unhealthier. Healthier foods included dairy products, fruit and vegetables, while unhealthy foods included salty snacks, sweets and sugary beverages.
Participants’ diet quality was calculated using the Healthy Eating Index-2010 (HEI-2010), developed by the United States Department of Agriculture.
The researchers discovered that, on average, healthier foods were nearly twice as expensive as unhealthy packaged foods, and as the gap between neighbourhood prices increased, participants were more likely to eat unhealthily.
For every 14 per cent increase in the healthy-to-unhealthy price ratio, the odds of participants eating a healthy diet dropped by 24 per cent, even after accounting for factors such as age, sex, income and education.
This impact was particularly strong among people in the middle ranges of income and wealth, and those with higher education.
“We originally expected to find the largest impact among individuals in the lowest wealth/income group. However, given the price gap that we found, healthy food may be too expensive for the lowest socioeconomic status group even at its most affordable,” said co-lead author David Kern, PhD.
Co-lead author Amy Auchincloss, PhD, added: “Cheap prices of unhealthy foods relative to healthier foods may be contributing to obesity and low-quality diet. We are consuming way too many sugary foods like cookies, candies and pastries, and sugary drinks, like soda and fruit drinks.”
The researchers have stressed the need for policies to be introduced which address large price differences between healthy and unhealthy foods to help improve diet quality in the US and also reduce the risk of health complications such as obesity, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
The study was published online in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
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