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ARS Home » Plains Area » Grand Forks, North Dakota » Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center » Healthy Body Weight Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #359237

Research Project: Dietary Guidelines Adherence and Healthy Body Weight Maintenance

Location: Healthy Body Weight Research

Title: Food price elasticity by status of participation in federal food assistance programs: A laboratory-based grocery store study

item Conrad, Zachary
item JOHNSON, LUANN - University Of North Dakota
item Jahns, Lisa
item Roemmich, James

Submitted to: Current Developments in Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/5/2019
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: When food prices increase, low-income Americans may find it challenging to afford healthy foods. To better understand how changes in food prices can affect healthy food purchases, we asked 80 volunteers to shop for food in our experimental grocery store using play money. Half of the volunteers were low-income and the other half were not low-income. Volunteers were asked to visit our grocery store several times, and each time the food prices changed. This study specifically focused on eggs because they contain many important nutrients and they are part of many cultural food menus. We found that, among both groups, for every 10% increase in the price of eggs the volunteers decreased their purchase of eggs by about 7-9%. We also found that, as the price of all non-egg foods increased, egg purchases increased moderately but the purchase of other healthy foods decreased dramatically. This research shows that efforts to emphasize healthy eating strategies on limited budgets will be especially important during times of food price increases.

Technical Abstract: Federal food assistance programs target low-income and nutritionally-vulnerable Americans, with the dual goals of reducing food insecurity and improving diet quality. Individuals on limited food budgets may face constraints on their ability to purchase healthy foods when their prices increase, which could mitigate the intended impact of federal feeding programs. To better understand the effect of food price changes on healthy food purchases, we focus on eggs, which are rich in many important nutrients and can be a healthy part of a wide range of cultural food menus. We use a laboratory-based grocery store experiment to examine the price elasticity of eggs between individuals participating in food assistance programs (n=40) and those not participating in these programs (n=40). Subjects completed several food purchasing trials, as well as questionnaires that assessed demographic, psychosocial, and other factors. Mixed linear regression models were used to assess the relationship between food price changes and food purchases (price elasticity). No difference in price elasticity was observed between groups, but subjects in both groups decreased their egg purchases by 6.9-8.6% for every 10% increase in egg price. For every 10% increase in the price of all non-egg foods, egg purchases increased by 1.3-3.3% among both groups, and purchases for foods such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains decreased by up to 14%. Efforts to emphasize healthy eating strategies on limited budgets will be especially important during times of food price increases. Additional research is needed to estimate the price elasticities of other food groups among individuals participating in federal food assistance programs.