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Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr;95(4):789-809. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.024380. Epub 2012 Feb 29.

Experimental research on the relation between food price changes and food-purchasing patterns: a targeted review.

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University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Buffalo, NY 14214-3000, USA.


One way in which to modify food purchases is to change prices through tax policy, subsidy policy, or both. We reviewed the growing body of experimental research conducted in the laboratory and in the field that investigates the following: the extent to which price changes influence purchases of targeted and nontargeted foods, total energy, or macronutrients purchased; the interaction of price changes with adjunctive interventions; and moderators of sensitivity to price changes. After a brief overview of economic principles and observational research that addresses these issues, we present a targeted review of experimental research. Experimental research suggests that price changes modify purchases of targeted foods, but research on the overall nutritional quality of purchases is mixed because of substitution effects. There is mixed support for combining price changes with adjunctive interventions, and there are no replicated findings on moderators to price sensitivity in experiments. Additional focused research is needed to better inform food policy development with the aim of improving eating behavior and preventing obesity.

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