Center for Public Health Nutrition

Poverty & Obesity: The Role of Energy Density and Cost of Diet

This multi-state project explored the relationship between dietary energy density, diet costs, and actual food expenditures in two groups: 120 middle-income men and women in Seattle and 120 low-income women from four California counties. Studies in Seattle developed a new tool to estimate individual diet costs, using local supermarket prices, California food prices and mean national food prices for some 400 foods, as estimated by the Economic Research Service of the USDA. All study participants provided data on shopping patterns, away from home foods, availability and accessibility of preferred foods, participation in food assistance programs, and potential financial and psychosocial barriers to dietary change. Questions on sensory acceptability and satisfaction with the diet were based on those developed for the USDA's Thrifty Food Plan.

The study goal was to develop ways to offer dietary advice that takes food preferences, usual eating habits, and financial limitations into account. Helping low-income consumers obtain high-quality diets at an affordable cost may be the key strategy for stemming the obesity epidemic among the disadvantaged groups.

Investigators: Adam Drewnowski and Marilyn Townsend (UC Davis)

Project Dates: 6/04-5/07

Funding: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Research Initiative

For more information:


Adam Drewnowski, PhD,
Director, Center for Public Health Nutrition, (206) 543-8016