Simulated models suggest that price per calorie is the dominant price metric that low-income individuals use for food decision making

Rahmatollah Beheshti, Takeru Igusa, Jessica Jones-Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: The price of food has long been considered one of the major factors that affects food choices. However, the price metric (e.g., the price of food per calorie or the price of food per gram) that individuals predominantly use when making food choices is unclear. Understanding which price metric is used is especially important for studying individuals with severe budget constraints because food price then becomes even more important in food choice. Objective: We assessed which price metric is used by low-income individuals in deciding what to eat. Methods: With the use of data from NHANES and the USDA Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies, we created an agent-based model that simulated an environment representing the US population, wherein individuals were modeled as agents with a specific weight, age, and income. In our model, agents made dietary food choices while meeting their budget limits with the use of 1 of 3 different metrics for decision making: energy cost (price per calorie), unit price (price per gram), and serving price (price per serving). The food consumption patterns generated by our model were compared to 3 independent data sets. Results: The food choice behaviors observed in 2 of the data sets were found to be closest to the simulated dietary patterns generated by the price per calorie metric. The behaviors observed in the third data set were equidistant from the patterns generated by price per calorie and price per serving metrics, whereas results generated by the price per gram metric were further away. Conclusions: Our simulations suggest that dietary food choice based on price per calorie best matches actual consumption patterns and may therefore be the most salient price metric for low-income populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2304-2311
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Volume146
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - 2016

Keywords

  • Food decision making
  • Food price
  • Low income
  • Price metric
  • Simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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