Food Prices Affect If Teens Eat Well

A study was conducted to examine the associations between the food consumption patterns of adolescents with food prices at groceries or fast food chains and with availability of food stores or restaurants in the nearby locality. The study showed that fast food prices and grocery store availability were associated with some food consumption categories among low-income youths. Increase in fast food prices was associated with consumption of more non-meat protein whereas availability of supermarkets was associated with more consumption of vegetables.

Consumption of junk food among adolescents puts them at higher risk for being overweight, which is considered an independent risk factor for various diseases. The proportion of overweight American adolescents aged 12 to 19 years reached 18.1 percent in 2007–2008. Studies have shown mixed results regarding the relationship between dietary practices and environmental factors, including food prices and food outlet availability. Reduction of food prices as well as availability of supermarkets resulted in substantial increases in healthy food purchases. The authors of the present study examined the association of consumption of different food items among the adolescents from different socio-economic backgrounds, with both food prices and availability of food sources.

* Questions regarding the consumption of different food items during the last seven days were posed to 1,134 adolescents (aged 12 to 18 years) from different socio-economic backgrounds, who participated in a national survey.
* Standard food price rates were drawn from the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Association. The calculation was based on where the participants lived during the period of consumption.
* Information about the availability of food stores or restaurant outlets for the particular area was taken from a business list developed by a private firm.
* Data collected on the prices of food items and availability of food were correlated to consumption patterns by the adolescents.

Key findings
* Consumption of food items overall did not vary in prices. Adolescents from poor economic conditions consumed healthy foods on fewer days than their counterparts from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.
* When fast food prices went higher by 10 percent there was a 20 percent higher level of non-meat protein consumption among poor youths.
* Availability of a supermarket or grocery shop was associated with more consumption of non-meat protein overall, and among the poor, increased availability of supermarkets was significantly associated with slightly higher weekly vegetable consumption.
* Among the non-poor, availability of grocery stores was associated with more consumption of meat whereas availability of convenience stores was associated with more consumption of non-meat protein. Families with higher income ate meat more frequently.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The data collected from individuals was at a single point in time; therefore, the temporary relationship between the observed results needs to be interpreted accordingly. Besides, the food consumption results were based on the answers to questions and not on actual amount consumed. Also, the food items evaluated in the study may contain both healthy and non-healthy items, which limit the interpretation. The food items selected may not serve as a representative across all food groups.

The study provides new evidence on how economic factors and the environment determine food consumption patterns among adolescents. Previous studies suggest that the consumption of food is dependent on food prices, and this has been found to impact the adolescents with poor economic conditions in the current study. These results suggest that if lower-income youths were to encounter higher fast food prices, for example, through taxes, they may be more likely to turn to more non-meat protein food items. The study results also suggested that policies that improve access to supermarkets in under-served lower socioeconomic areas may also help to raise vegetable consumption levels among poor youths.

For More Information:
The Costs of Food at Home and Away from Home and Consumption Patterns Among U.S. Adolescents
Publication Journal: Journal of Adolescent Health, January 2011
By L.M. Powell, E. Han;  University of Illinois at Chicago

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.