Affordability is Key to Healthy Eating Around the World

By: Jen Houchins, PhD

Research continues to show the value of nutrient-dense animal sourced foods as part of healthy eating patterns in the U.S. and around the world.  On World Egg Day, we highlight the incredible, nutrient-dense egg as part of a global solution to inadequate nutrition, and consider new insights of challenges of consuming healthy diets both globally and within the U.S.

A recent study evaluated the “relative caloric prices” (RCPs) for different foods across 176 countries and the relationship to nutrition outcomes.  RCP is the price of 1 calorie of a food in comparison to the price of 1 calorie of a representative basket of starch staple food in a specific country, so it gives an indication of how expensive a food is compared to commonly consumed starchy foods.  It was observed that in lower-income countries, healthy foods were generally expensive, especially animal-sourced foods and fortified infant cereals. 

For example, in both low-income and lower middle-income countries, the RCP for dark green leafy vegetables was 14.43 and 13.94, respectively.  Vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables had a RCP of 9.50 and 8.62 in low-income and lower middle-income countries, as compared to 7.83 in high-income countries.  Eggs had a RCP of 11.66, 6.65, 4.46, and 2.60 in low-income, lower middle-income, upper middle-income, and high income, respectively.  These data indicate that eggs are extremely expensive in low-income countries, and relatively cheap in high-income countries.  These RCPs are significant predictors of consumption patterns of young children aged 12-23 months old, with higher prices driving lower consumption.

Similarly, an analysis of recommended diets in the U.S. found that USDA Healthy Food Patterns are higher in several macro- and micronutrients, but they are also more expensive.  In this study, information was collected from the dietary intake interview component of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2013-2014, and the estimated cost of currently-consumed diets was compared to USDA recommended food patterns.  The data indicate that the USDA Healthy Food Patterns have higher diet quality scores compared to usual diets that cost approximately $5.82/day.  The calculated cost of Healthy Food Patterns were $5.90/day (vegetarian), $8.27/day (US-Healthy), and $8.73/day (Mediterranean), all estimated at 2,000 kcal per day.  The data show that the higher cost of the Healthy and Mediterranean Patterns are due to seafood, meat and poultry, fruit, and low-fat dairy.

Although these are two different analyses presented in different contexts (one is a global view, and one is a US-specific approach), the idea is the same – price can impact the ability of people to choose nutrient-dense foods and healthy dietary patterns.  In the United States, the good news is that eggs are relatively cheap, and at approximately 15 cents per large egg, the value in a healthy diet pattern is difficult to argue.  However, around the world, novel approaches to help improve access and consumption of eggs is not straight forward and varies based on local cultures.

Overall, eggs can be an affordable food within U.S. food pattern recommendations, and these new data suggest an opportunity for improvement in access to eggs around the world.  Please visit our website for additional information about egg nutrition, including information about healthy, sustainable eating patterns.