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J Nutr. 2002 Dec;132(12):3764-71.

A cost constraint alone has adverse effects on food selection and nutrient density: an analysis of human diets by linear programming.

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Institut Scientifique et Technique de la Nutrition et de l'Alimentation and the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Paris, France.


Economic constraints may contribute to the unhealthy food choices observed among low socioeconomic groups in industrialized countries. The objective of the present study was to predict the food choices a rational individual would make to reduce his or her food budget, while retaining a diet as close as possible to the average population diet. Isoenergetic diets were modeled by linear programming. To ensure these diets were consistent with habitual food consumption patterns, departure from the average French diet was minimized and constraints that limited portion size and the amount of energy from food groups were introduced into the models. A cost constraint was introduced and progressively strengthened to assess the effect of cost on the selection of foods by the program. Strengthening the cost constraint reduced the proportion of energy contributed by fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products and increased the proportion from cereals, sweets and added fats, a pattern similar to that observed among low socioeconomic groups. This decreased the nutritional quality of modeled diets, notably the lowest cost linear programming diets had lower vitamin C and beta-carotene densities than the mean French adult diet (i.e., <25% and 10% of the mean density, respectively). These results indicate that a simple cost constraint can decrease the nutrient densities of diets and influence food selection in ways that reproduce the food intake patterns observed among low socioeconomic groups. They suggest that economic measures will be needed to effectively improve the nutritional quality of diets consumed by these populations.

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