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The Rising Cost of Low-Energy-Density Foods



      Consuming lower-energy-density foods is one recommended strategy for management of body weight. This cross-sectional study used retail food prices to test the hypothesis that low-energy-density foods are not only more costly per kilocalorie, but have increased disproportionately in price as compared to high-energy-density foods.


      For a list of 372 foods and beverages belonging to a food frequency questionnaire database, retail prices were obtained from major supermarket chains in the Seattle, WA, metropolitan area in 2004 and 2006. Energy density of all items was calculated and prices were expressed as $/100 g edible portion and as $/1,000 kcal. Foods were stratified by quintiles of energy density and the differences in energy cost and in percent price change were tested using analyses of variance.


      High-energy-density foods provided the most dietary energy at least cost. Energy cost of foods in the bottom quintile of energy density, beverages excluded, was $18.16/1,000 kcal as compared to only $1.76/1,000 kcal for foods in the top quintile. The 2-year price change for the least energy-dense foods was +19.5%, whereas the price change for the most energy-dense foods was −1.8%.


      The finding that energy-dense foods are not only the least expensive, but also most resistant to inflation, may help explain why the highest rates of obesity continue to be observed among groups of limited economic means. The sharp price increase for the low-energy-density foods suggests that economic factors may pose a barrier to the adoption of more healthful diets and so limit the impact of dietary guidance.
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      P. Monsivais is a research fellow in the Nutritional Sciences Program, School of Public Health and Community Medicine and the Department of Dental Public Health Sciences, School of Dentistry, University of Washington, Seattle.


      A. Drewnowski is professor and director, Nutritional Sciences Program, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle.