Food prices and the affordability of healthy diets

Economists have accumulated mountains of evidence about food prices and consumer behavior, but almost all of that focuses on revealed preferences and market outcomes.  For obvious reasons we have less evidence about the cost of counterfactual diets, such as diets that are healthier than what people actually consume.

In recent years I’ve been collaborating with nutritionists to cost out their recommendations, using economic principles to construct new price indexes and other metrics to answer a few basic questions:
•  are healthier diets affordable, given peoples’ incomes?
•  how does the affordability of healthy diets vary over space and time?
•  above all, what can be done to lower costs & improve affordability?

The answers, it turns out, are quite surprising – and useful.  Where healthy diets are out of reach, poor nutrition is caused by poverty rather than food choice. Once a healthy diet becomes affordable, then behavior matters and the standard tools of demand analysis and health communications are needed. My current project on this topic is called Food Prices for Nutrition. Check it out!