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Physiol Behav. 2014 Jul;134:20-31. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.03.001. Epub 2014 Mar 11.

Food costs, diet quality and energy balance in the United States.

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US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, USA. Electronic address:
US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, USA.


The high obesity rates and poor diet quality in the United States, particularly among low income populations, are often attributed to low income, low food access, and high food prices of healthy foods. This paper discusses these associations and questions some of the metrics used to measure food prices. The paper argues that 1. On average, Americans consume diets that need improvement and there is only a very limited relationship between income and diet quality; 2. The way the food price is measured makes a difference in the perception of how expensive healthy and less healthy food is; 3. The way Americans allocate their food budgets between healthy and less healthy foods is not in line with healthy diets; and 4. At any food spending level there are households that purchase healthy (and unhealthy) diets, including budgets at or below the maximum allotment for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides a means for low-income households to purchase food. Our key finding is that healthy foods and diets are affordable, but policy makers, nutrition educators, researchers and the media need to focus on promoting this message, and providing additional guidance on making the changes for Americans to switch to a healthy and affordable diet.


Consumer Expenditure Survey; Cost of healthy foods; ERS Food Expenditure Series; Food cost; Food deserts; Food prices; Food spending; Healthy diets; NHANES

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