Nutrient intakes linked to better health outcomes are associated with higher diet costs in the US

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37533. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037533. Epub 2012 May 25.


Purpose: Degrees of nutrient intake and food groups have been linked to differential chronic disease risk. However, intakes of specific nutrients may also be associated with differential diet costs and unobserved differences in socioeconomic status (SES). The present study examined degrees of nutrient intake, for every key nutrient in the diet, in relation to diet cost and SES.

Methods: Socio-demographic data for a stratified random sample of adult respondents in the Seattle Obesity Study were obtained through telephone survey. Dietary intakes were assessed using food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) (n = 1,266). Following standard procedures, nutrient intakes were energy-adjusted using the residual method and converted into quintiles. Diet cost for each respondent was estimated using Seattle supermarket retail prices for 384 FFQ component foods.

Results: Higher intakes of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, D, E, and B12, beta carotene, folate, iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium were associated with higher diet costs. The cost gradient was most pronounced for vitamin C, beta carotene, potassium, and magnesium. Higher intakes of saturated fats, trans fats and added sugars were associated with lower diet costs. Lower cost lower quality diets were more likely to be consumed by lower SES.

Conclusion: Nutrients commonly associated with a lower risk of chronic disease were associated with higher diet costs. By contrast, nutrients associated with higher disease risk were associated with lower diet costs. The cost variable may help somewhat explain why lower income groups fail to comply with dietary guidelines and have highest rates of diet related chronic disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diet / economics*
  • Diet / standards*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Class