Study finds prices of lower-calorie foods on the rise

by Staff
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SEATTLE — The cost of lower-calorie foods are rising faster than the cost of higher-calorie foods, according to a University of Washington study.

The study, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found prices of fresh fruit and vegetables and other low-calorie foods have jumped almost 20% during the past two years. In turn, this might cause a nutritious diet to be moving out of the reach of some consumers.

"That the cost of healthful foods is outpacing inflation is a major problem," said Dr. Adam Drewnowski, a University of Washington researcher and director for the Center for Public Health Nutrition. "The gap between what we say people should eat and what they can afford is becoming unacceptable nation wide. If grains, sugars and fats are the only affordable foods left, how are we to handle the obesity epidemic?"

Dr. Drewnowski and Dr. Pablo Monsivais, another researcher at the center, studied food prices at grocery stores in the Seattle area in 2004. They found less energy dense foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, are more expensive per calorie than energy-dense foods, which includes foods that have refined grains, added sugars and added fats. When the researchers surveyed prices again in 2006, it was found the disparity in prices worsened with time. Lower-calorie foods increased in price about 20% in the period when inflation during this time was about 5%. In addition, calorie-rich foods stayed stable in price or dropped.

According to the researchers, the study is evidence that obesity may be linked to economics and isn’t just a personal problem.

"We need to focus on bigger-scale changes, like the farm bill or other policy measures that can address the disparity in food costs," Dr. Monsivais said.

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