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Food Prices and the Affordability of Healthy Diets: New Data and Methods to Inform Agriculture, Food Systems, Safety Nets and Nutrition Programs

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 3:45 PM - 5:45 PM (EST)

Hosted By: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association
  • Chair: William Masters, Tufts University

International Comparison of Retail Food Prices to Guide Agriculture and Food Systems

Yan Bai
,
Tufts University
Anna Herforth
,
Independent
Nada Hamadeh
,
World Bank Development Data Group

Abstract

Recent work using food prices from the International Comparison Program (https://icp.worldbank.org) has transformed the analysis of diet costs and affordability, through new indicators published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) reports. These results have been widely disseminated to a variety of audiences through global databases, and used to guide nutrition assistance through the UN Food System Summit and other policy forums. This paper describes the data, methods, and policy implications for tracking the cost of healthy diets in selected countries around the world using the monthly retail food prices from national statistical offices and the 2017 food price data from the International Comparison Program.

Impacts of COVID Severity and Climate Shocks on Food Prices around the World

Jessica Wallingford
,
Tufts University
Aishwarya Venkat
,
Tufts University
William Masters
,
Tufts University

Abstract

Monthly variation in food price data from national sources, market information systems and early warning systems can be combined across countries to identify spatial and temporal variation in the cost and affordability of healthy diets. This paper builds on previous work to describe how these data and methods reveal significant cost increases associated with COVID mortality, the stringency of lockdowns, and a variety of climate shocks. These changes in retail food prices are uncorrelated with international farm commodity prices, and are most plausibly caused by increased labor costs or disruption of storage and transport to retail outlets.

Confidence Intervals and Long-Run Trends in Food Prices, the Cost of Basic Needs, and Global Poverty

Michail Moatsos
,
Utrecht University

Abstract

Measuring long-run changes and comparing living standards across very different countries can be facilitated by the establishment of absolute poverty lines based on the least-cost ways of attaining a minimum standard of health as well as housing and other requisites. This paper extends the methods pioneered by Allen (2017) and extended by Moatsos (2020) as well as OECD (2021) to reveal that, in terms of affordability of basic foods, most countries had less poverty in the 19th century but more poverty in recent years than is estimated using all prices in the economy as in the World Bank’s dollar-a-day global poverty lines.

What the Potato Did for Us: A Dual Approach to the Changing Value of Nutrients over the Seasons

Robert C. Allen
,
New York University

Abstract

Potatoes were introduced into Europe during the seventeenth century and became an important food by the eighteenth. It is widely believed that the potato made an important contribution to European nutrition, but how exactly? Was the potato a cheap source of calories or did its contribution lie elsewhere? This paper addresses those questions by collecting the prices of many foods for eighteenth England, including vegetable prices in different seasons. Linear programming is used to compute least cost diets satisfying nutritional requirements. These diets are representative of what many people actually ate. Winter and summer models are computed to capture the large seasonal swings in vegetable prices. The dual linear programs are calculated to determine the shadow prices of nutrients. Removing foods (like potatoes in the winter) and re-computing the model shows the contribution of the foods to the diets and maps out the changing value of nutrients. The consumption of potatoes did not lower the value of calories; rather, potatoes lowered the value of vitamin C in the winter (but not in the summer when fresh vegetables were cheap).
JEL Classifications
  • I1 - Health
  • Q1 - Agriculture