Trends in Prices of Fresh vs. Ultra-Processed foods: Analyses of Seattle-King County Prices from 2004-16.
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Introduction: The availability of safe, affordable, nutrient-rich food for purchase is a key component of food equity. However, foods higher in nutrients and lower in energy tend to be associated with higher per- calorie costs. By contrast, foods with lower nutrient content and higher energy density generally cost less. Many of the lower cost foods are processed rather than fresh. This study explored the temporal profile of food prices in Seattle King county (2004-2016) by food group and by level of processing. Methods: Food prices were obtained for 379 food and beverage items from a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) provided by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Price data for King County were collected in 2-year cycles over 13-year period (2004-2016). In 2016 data were collected for 3 different counties in Washington State (2016). Prices data were used to generate prices per 100 g and per 100 kcal, edible portion of food. Analyses were conducted to determine whether fresh foods increased in price more than did processed and ultra-processed foods. The cross-sectional county comparisons followed the same criteria, using prices from a single cycle (2016). Prices and availability data were collected in July and August in King, Pierce, and Yakima counties in Washington State. Some items were re-collected for clarification in November. The prices were collected from the following supermarkets in King County: Safeway Inc., Quality Food Centers (QFC), and Albertsons, Pierce County: Safeway Inc., and Fred Meyer's, and Yakima County: Safeway Inc. and Fred Meyer’s. Item cost was defined by Shelf Price, Unit Price, and Price per pound or Price per pint. The independent variables were 7 food group categorizations, and 4 food processing categories. The dependent variables were $/100 grams and $/100 Kcal of food. Statistical analyses and descriptive statistics through STATA were used to compare the 2014 and 2016 prices and the 13-year time trends by food group and food processing classifications. Results: The price of the market basket of foods increased from 2004 to 2016. The food group category Fish/Poultry/Seafood was consistently the highest priced group out of the 7 total. The food processing category Fresh was consistently the most expensive classification for $/100 grams and $/100 Kcal. Foods with a higher energy density, more processed, were less expensive than food with lower energy density, less processed. Discussion: Fresher, less energy dense foods are important for healthy diets. Many studies have shown price to be a significant factor in consumers purchasing habits, and an intervention to encourage or discourage the consumption of certain foods and beverage items. The trends in food prices for both food group and food processing classifications are important for understanding future changes for policy, education, and the prevention of chronic disease.
- Nutritional sciences