Contribution of food prices and diet cost to socioeconomic disparities in diet quality and health: a systematic review and analysis

Nutr Rev. 2015 Oct;73(10):643-60. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv027. Epub 2015 Aug 25.


Context: It is well established in the literature that healthier diets cost more than unhealthy diets.

Objective: The aim of this review was to examine the contribution of food prices and diet cost to socioeconomic inequalities in diet quality.

Data sources: A systematic literature search of the PubMed, Google Scholar, and Web of Science databases was performed.

Study selection: Publications linking food prices, dietary quality, and socioeconomic status were selected.

Data extraction: Where possible, review conclusions were illustrated using a French national database of commonly consumed foods and their mean retail prices.

Data synthesis: Foods of lower nutritional value and lower-quality diets generally cost less per calorie and tended to be selected by groups of lower socioeconomic status. A number of nutrient-dense foods were available at low cost but were not always palatable or culturally acceptable to the low-income consumer. Acceptable healthier diets were uniformly associated with higher costs. Food budgets in poverty were insufficient to ensure optimum diets.

Conclusions: Socioeconomic disparities in diet quality may be explained by the higher cost of healthy diets. Identifying food patterns that are nutrient rich, affordable, and appealing should be a priority to fight social inequalities in nutrition and health.

Keywords: diet cost; energy density; food prices; nutrient density; nutrition economics; socioeconomic status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Commerce
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Diet / economics*
  • Energy Intake
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food / economics*
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Status
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Poverty*
  • Social Class
  • Socioeconomic Factors