NEW! - ‘Nutrients per dollar’ shopping may save American diets

Articles
November 14, 2008

NEW! - ‘Nutrients per dollar’ shopping may save American diets

Today’s tanking economy may be costing Americans more than their retirement savings, job security and housing. Slower household cash flow, and the anxiety associated with losing so much money, is derailing the ability of families to put healthy food on the table. Are we at a point when healthful gains in the nation’s diet of the past decade will fall victim to rising food prices? How could food stores be more proactive in rebuilding momentum for healthful choices, when it is so tempting for people to buy lower-cost processed foods than perishables? Will our obesity problem rise as a result? “[Today] people are eating cheap, unhealthy food who never thought they would be,” Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Obesity Research at the University of Washington, Seattle, told the Los Angeles Times recently. In other writings, he noted, “fats and sweets cost less, whereas healthier diets cost more, and the sugar in fresh raspberries costs about 100 times more than refined sugar in a bag.”

Today’s tanking economy may be costing Americans more than their retirement savings, job security and housing.  Slower household cash flow, and the anxiety associated with losing so much money, is derailing the ability of families to put healthy food on the table.

Are we at a point when healthful gains in the nation’s diet of the past decade will fall victim to rising food prices? How could food stores be more proactive in rebuilding momentum for healthful choices, when it is so tempting for people to buy lower-cost processed foods than perishables?  Will our obesity problem rise as a result?

“[Today] people are eating cheap, unhealthy food who never thought they would be,” Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Obesity Research at the University of Washington, Seattle, told the Los Angeles Times recently. In other writings, he noted, “fats and sweets cost less, whereas healthier diets cost more, and the sugar in fresh raspberries costs about 100 times more than refined sugar in a bag.”

His 2007 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, done with research analyst Pablo Monsivais of the University’s Center for Public Health Nutrition, showed a 7.9% average food and beverage price increase in Seattle-area supermarkets in 2004 and 2006. However, prices of the most calorie-dense solid foods dropped by 1.8%, while prices of the least calorie-dense rose by an average of 19.5%. 

Price changes affect how people shop, especially today, since they need to afford their choices. Some experts feel the economy may push people to buy less healthy foods simply to keep their bellies from growling. But Supermarket Guru believes that the right messaging in supermarkets could help keep healthful diets intact, and would be precisely the kind of customer care to differentiate stores in the current price-driven environment.

For example, whole-wheat pasta costs about 25% more than regular pasta, but is more nutrient-dense and filling, so people can use less. Center-store is filled with such examples. Chain nutritionists could pepper aisles with such educational signage, and enable shoppers to make smarter choices at the shelf.

By shining a light on good nutritional components in foods (not just the fats, sweets and carbohydrates to avoid) in signs and circulars, stores could help frame smarter shopping decisions and help people avoid feelings of dietary remorse, which would represent a further loss of control in these turbulent times.