Lowering the cost of healthy food linked to improved diet

It's been an economic and health catch-22 for years: the unhealthiest foods are usually the cheapest.

But with the fast-growing obesity and diabetes epidemics that are racking up millions of dollars in healthcare costs, it's a problem that needs attention.

In South Africa, new research has shown that lowering the cost of healthy foods helped to reduce overall consumption of nutritionally "bad" foods, like those that are packaged, processed or ridden with added salt, sugar or fat.

Shoppers get rebates

In the South African program, shoppers can get a 10- to 25-percent rebate when they purchase foods that have been pre-selected by a panel of nutritionists and physicians. These foods include fruits, vegetables, non-fat dairy products and whole grains.

Researchers collected data on 170,000 households and the diet habits of 350,000 individuals, including people who participated in the survey and people who did not. Regardless of participation, lower prices on healthy foods corresponded to better self-reported dietary habits.

"These findings offer good evidence that lowering the cost of nutritionally preferable foods can motivate people to significantly improve their diet," said Roland Sturm, study co-author and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

Fruit and veggie intake up, fast food consumption down

Participants who received a 25-percent rebate were shown to eat an additional half-serving of fruits and vegetables per day, and they were also less likely to eat fast food or processed meats.

But researchers note that saving money still only puts a dent in the bigger problem, which is that people with unhealthy eating habits are generally resistant to eat the foods nutritionists promote.

"Behavior changes are proportional to price changes," said Sturm. "When there is a large gap between people's actual eating behaviors and what nutritionists recommend, even a 25 percent price change closes just a small fraction of that gap."

Source: Medical News Today

Photo by John Nyboer

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