Healthy and Unhealthy Food Prices across Neighborhoods and Their Association with Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status and Proportion Black/Hispanic
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This paper evaluates variation in food prices within and between neighborhoods to improve our understanding of access to healthy foods in urbanized areas and potential economic incentives and barriers to consuming a higher-quality diet. Prices of a selection of healthier foods (dairy, fruit juice, and frozen vegetables) and unhealthy foods (soda, sweets, and salty snacks) were obtained from 1953 supermarkets across the USA during 2009–2012 and were linked to census block group socio-demographics. Analyses evaluated associations between neighborhood SES and proportion Black/Hispanic and the prices of healthier and unhealthy foods, and the relative price of healthier foods compared with unhealthy foods (healthy-to-unhealthy price ratio). Linear hierarchical regression models were used to explore geospatial variation and adjust for confounders. Overall, the price of healthier foods was nearly twice as high as the price of unhealthy foods ($0.590 vs $0.298 per serving; healthy-to-unhealthy price ratio of 1.99). This trend was consistent across all neighborhood characteristics. After adjusting for covariates, no association was found between food prices (healthy, unhealthy, or the healthy-to-unhealthy ratio) and neighborhood SES. Similarly, there was no association between the proportion Black/Hispanic and healthier food price, a very small positive association with unhealthy price, and a modest negative association with the healthy-to-unhealthy ratio. No major differences were seen in food prices across levels of neighborhood SES and proportion Black/Hispanic; however, the price of healthier food was twice as expensive as unhealthy food per serving on average.