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

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          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.

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          Does social class predict diet quality?

          A large body of epidemiologic data show that diet quality follows a socioeconomic gradient. Whereas higher-quality diets are associated with greater affluence, energy-dense diets that are nutrient-poor are preferentially consumed by persons of lower socioeconomic status (SES) and of more limited economic means. As this review demonstrates, whole grains, lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy products, and fresh vegetables and fruit are more likely to be consumed by groups of higher SES. In contrast, the consumption of refined grains and added fats has been associated with lower SES. Although micronutrient intake and, hence, diet quality are affected by SES, little evidence indicates that SES affects either total energy intakes or the macronutrient composition of the diet. The observed associations between SES variables and diet-quality measures can be explained by a variety of potentially causal mechanisms. The disparity in energy costs ($/MJ) between energy-dense and nutrient-dense foods is one such mechanism; easy physical access to low-cost energy-dense foods is another. If higher SES is a causal determinant of diet quality, then the reported associations between diet quality and better health, found in so many epidemiologic studies, may have been confounded by unobserved indexes of social class. Conversely, if limited economic resources are causally linked to low-quality diets, some current strategies for health promotion, based on recommending high-cost foods to low-income people, may prove to be wholly ineffective. Exploring the possible causal relations between SES and diet quality is the purpose of this review.
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            Transcending the known in public health practice: the inequality paradox: the population approach and vulnerable populations.

            Using the concept of vulnerable populations, we examine how disparities in health may be exacerbated by population-approach interventions. We show, from an etiologic perspective, how life-course epidemiology, the concentration of risk factors, and the concept of fundamental causes of diseases may explain the differential capacity, throughout the risk-exposure distribution, to transform resources provided through population-approach interventions into health. From an intervention perspective, we argue that population-approach interventions may be compromised by inconsistencies between the social and cultural assumptions of public health practitioners and targeted groups. We propose some intervention principles to mitigate the health disparities associated with population-approach interventions.
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              Population approaches to improve diet, physical activity, and smoking habits: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association.

              Poor lifestyle behaviors, including suboptimal diet, physical inactivity, and tobacco use, are leading causes of preventable diseases globally. Although even modest population shifts in risk substantially alter health outcomes, the optimal population-level approaches to improve lifestyle are not well established. For this American Heart Association scientific statement, the writing group systematically reviewed and graded the current scientific evidence for effective population approaches to improve dietary habits, increase physical activity, and reduce tobacco use. Strategies were considered in 6 broad domains: (1) Media and educational campaigns; (2) labeling and consumer information; (3) taxation, subsidies, and other economic incentives; (4) school and workplace approaches; (5) local environmental changes; and (6) direct restrictions and mandates. The writing group also reviewed the potential contributions of healthcare systems and surveillance systems to behavior change efforts. Several specific population interventions that achieved a Class I or IIa recommendation with grade A or B evidence were identified, providing a set of specific evidence-based strategies that deserve close attention and prioritization for wider implementation. Effective interventions included specific approaches in all 6 domains evaluated for improving diet, increasing activity, and reducing tobacco use. The writing group also identified several specific interventions in each of these domains for which current evidence was less robust, as well as other inconsistencies and evidence gaps, informing the need for further rigorous and interdisciplinary approaches to evaluate population programs and policies. This systematic review identified and graded the evidence for a range of population-based strategies to promote lifestyle change. The findings provide a framework for policy makers, advocacy groups, researchers, clinicians, communities, and other stakeholders to understand and implement the most effective approaches. New strategic initiatives and partnerships are needed to translate this evidence into action.

                Author and article information

                Nutr Rev
                Nutr. Rev
                Nutrition Reviews
                Oxford University Press
                October 2015
                25 August 2015
                25 August 2015
                : 73
                : 10
                : 643-660
                N. Darmon is with the Unité Mixte de Recherche “Nutrition, Obesity and Risk of Thrombosis,” Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique 1260, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale 1062, Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France. A. Drewnowski is with the Center for Public Health Nutrition, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.
                Author notes
                N. Darmon, UMR NORT, Faculté de Médecine de la Timone, 27 Boulevard Jean Moulin, 13385 Marseille Cedex 05, France. Tel +33-491294090. E-mail: nicole.darmon@ .
                © The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Life Sciences Institute.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence (, which permits non-commercial reproduction and distribution of the work, in any medium, provided the original work is not altered or transformed in any way, and that the work properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact

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                Pages: 18
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