The price of food: improving assessments of community food prices and accounting for the time cost of food.
food choices are subject to a budget constraint and a time constraint. To achieve an
adequate diet that supports a healthy and active life, households must have sufficient
income and time resources. Household purchasing power is directly influenced by the
price of food at retailers while household time resources are impacted both by household
characteristics and by the tim... read moree costs related to food. This dissertation addresses both
types of household constraints in a series of three articles. The first article used
Consumer Expenditure Survey data to examine the relationship of household
characteristics that serve as proxies for household time constraints with food spending
behavior. Household structure was the most consistent and, in several cases, the most
practically significant predictor of food shopping patterns. Compared to married couple
households, single-adult households shopped less frequently and allocated more of their
food budget to food away from home and prepared food and less on food at home,
vegetables of all forms, and fresh vegetables. The second article provides empirical
evidence of differences in food availability and prices between small and large food
retailers based on detailed, localized data from the Boston metropolitan area. This
study improved on existing methods of community food price survey research by increasing
the representativeness of sampled areas, retailers, and food items and applying novel
methods for handling variability in food item availability. Differences in food
availability between small and large stores were greatest for fresh meats and produce.
Food available at small stores was predominantly shelf stable rather than perishable.
The average unit price of individual food items was consistently higher at small stores,
although there were a few food items sold at small stores that were priced competitively
with large stores. The aggregated cost of food at small stores was higher than at large
stores, with the estimated difference ranging from 25 percent higher to 59 percent
higher. Adjusting for food item availability resulted in larger estimated price
differences. The third article examined variations in the price of food items due to
nutrition and convenience attributes using primary data collected from Boston-area food
retailers. It improves on existing methods and studies in three ways. First, systematic
research design was implemented to ensure representativeness of sampled areas,
retailers, and food items. Second, analyses controlled for store size and neighborhood
characteristics when conducting food price comparisons. Third, expenditure weights were
applied to assess the overall economic significance of food price differences.
Substitutions based on MyPlate guidance typically resulted in price increases while
substituting more convenient forms of food resulted in both price increases and price
decreases. When put in the context of the overall food budget, we found that the
estimated impact of both types of substitutions was substantially tempered but that the
net effect was a small increase in the overall cost of the basket of goods. The methods
and analytic tools developed in this dissertation can serve as a template for collecting
localized food price data in other communities to address empirical questions about the
food price environment, such as the impact of healthy store initiatives on the
availability and price of healthful food options. Findings from this dissertation also
highlight the tradeoffs between the time costs involved in acquiring and preparing food
at home and the monetary cost of the food items
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2013.
Submitted to the Dept. of Food Policy & Applied Nutrition.
Advisor: Parke Wilde.
Committee: Ephraim Leibtag, and Beatrice Rogers.
Keywords: Agriculture economics, Nutrition, and Public health.read less