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Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jul;82(1 Suppl):265S-273S.

The economics of obesity: dietary energy density and energy cost.

Author information

  • 1Nutritional Sciences Program, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA. adamdrew@u.washington.edu

Abstract

Highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States are found among the lower-income groups. The observed links between obesity and socioeconomic position may be related to dietary energy density and energy cost. Refined grains, added sugars, and added fats are among the lowest-cost sources of dietary energy. They are inexpensive, good tasting, and convenient. In contrast, the more nutrient-dense lean meats, fish, fresh vegetables, and fruit generally cost more. An inverse relationship between energy density of foods (kilojoules per gram) and their energy cost (dollars per megajoule) means that the more energy-dense diets are associated with lower daily food consumption costs and may be an effective way to save money. However, economic decisions affecting food choice may have physiologic consequences. Laboratory studies suggest that energy-dense foods and energy-dense diets have a lower satiating power and may result in passive overeating and therefore weight gain. Epidemiologic analyses suggest that the low-cost energy-dense diets also tend to be nutrient poor. If the rise in obesity rates is related to the growing price disparity between healthy and unhealthy foods, then the current strategies for obesity prevention may need to be revised. Encouraging low-income families to consume healthier but more costly foods to prevent future disease can be construed as an elitist approach to public health. Limiting access to inexpensive foods through taxes on frowned upon fats and sweets is a regressive measure. The broader problem may lie with growing disparities in incomes and wealth, declining value of the minimum wage, food imports, tariffs, and trade. Evidence is emerging that obesity in America is a largely economic issue.

PMID:
16002835
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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