Prices of Healthy Versus Unhealthy Foods Effect on Kids’ Weight

This study focuses on childhood obesity, currently one of the most challenging health problems. Authors studied the prices of some healthy foods (low-fat milk, dark green vegetables, etc.) and unhealthy ones (juice blends, starchy vegetables, sweets, etc.) that are available in the market and correlated the effect of these prices on children’s basal metabolic rate (BMR). They found increased BMI as the prices of unhealthy items came down. On the contrary, BMI was found to decrease in children if the prices of healthy items were decreased in the market. “This report estimates the effect of food prices on children’s Body Mass Index (BMI) using variation in food prices across time and geographic areas.”

Overweight children are prone to potential medical problems, including type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and breathing and sleeping disorders. Obesity in children can lead to other social and financial issues also. With the rise in the number of overweight children, the medical costs for treating their weight-related problems have also increased. First Lady Michelle Obama also identified this problem and took up the challenge of reversing the obesity trends by starting the “Let’s Move” campaign. Some researchers have recognized the relationship between prices of certain foods and childhood obesity, but none had studied the effect of beverage prices. Here, authors have determined the prices of carbonated beverages, fruit drinks, 100 percent juices, low-fat milk, whole milk, 2 percent milk, starchy vegetables, dark- green vegetables, and sweet snacks from the Quarterly Food-at-Home-Price Database (QFAHPD) and studied its impact on the BMI of children.

* A sample of 15,090 children was taken from Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class.
* Children were observed for a year in kindergarten, 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade for their BMI and other demographics (age, race, gender, and birth weights).
* Average quarterly prices for 52 food groups were taken from QFAHPD where households report their food purchases from several store categories.
* Students’ family structure, household income, and parents’ education were also considered.

* Increase in prices for low-fat milk and dark-green vegetables was associated with high BMI in children, whereas increase in price for sweet snacks was associated with low BMI after three months of study.
* Increase in prices for carbonated beverages, 100 percent juices, and starchy vegetables was associated with low BMI after one year of study.
* Children originally with a higher BMI were greatly affected by the hike in the prices of healthy foods, whereas children with a lower BMI were highly affected by increase in the prices of unhealthy foods.
* Higher soda price had a significant effect on boys, households with income below the poverty line, and white and Hispanic children.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Since it takes some time (about a year) to visualize the changes in BMI, students should be tested for more than a year to have clearer picture of BMI change with food prices. The food prices studied here are food-at-home prices. A more elaborate study should be done on food-away-from-home such as restaurants and food given in school, etc.

Over the past 30 years, the occurrence of being overweight has grown three times among children. There is a need to address this problem as childhood obesity is associated with some serious diseases. The present study focused on establishing the relationship between food prices and children’s BMI. Children should be given nutrient-dense foods such as green vegetables and low calorie alternatives such as low-fat milk in order to decrease their weight and hence their basal metabolic rate. BMI was reported to decrease with the lower prices of these healthy items. Also, increase in BMI was observed with lower prices of unhealthy items like starchy vegetables, sweet snacks and beverages. These effects were more pronounced in lower income households as compared to higher income households. Overall, food prices have a statistically substantive effect on children’s BMI.

For More Information:
The Effect of Food and Beverage Prices on Children’s Weights
Publication Journal: Economic Research Report Number 118, June 2011
By Minh Wendt; Jessica E. Todd; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.

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