UW Today

August 4, 2011

Consumers who follow federal nutrition guidelines may have higher food costs, UW researchers say

If you try to eat healthier these days, and follow federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, its likely that youre eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. It also means that your grocery bill is increasing, according to University of Washington researchers from the Center for Public Health Nutrition.

Diets emphasizing vegetables and fruits can be costly for consumers.

Diets emphasizing vegetables and fruits can be costly for consumers.Michael Cannon, Flickr

Pablo Monsivais, acting assistant professor of epidemiology, School of Public Health, and his team analyzed data from the Seattle Obesity Study, a population-based investigation of social determinants of diet quality and health conducted in 2008 and 2009.  Social determinants of health include income, education and socioeconomic status.

More specifically, researchers analyzed local food prices and examined the cost of each incremental increase in intake for dietary fiber, potassium, calcium and vitamin D—all nutrients recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The conclusion?  Increasing consumption of potassium (the most expensive of four recommended nutrients) would add $380 each year to the average consumers food costs.  On the flip side, consumers who obtained more calories from saturated fat and added sugar would have significant drops in food costs.

“This provides an economic reality check for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines,” said Monsivais.  “If consumers aim to improve their diets without raising food budgets, they will need guidance that takes the cost of food into account.  We also need to revamp our food system to increase the availability and reduce the cost of healthful foods.”

Anju Aggarwal, project manager at the Center for Public Health Nutrition and Adam Drewnowski, UW professor of epidemiology and medicine, were co-authors on “Following Federal Guidelines to Increase Nutrient Consumption May Lead to Higher Food Costs for Consumers,” published on August 4 in Health Affairs.