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Abstract

The interest of this study is the tradeoff between nutrition and taste in consumer food choice. We examine choice between more and less healthy versions of particular foods within four important grocery categories: breakfast cereal, milk, bread, and soft drinks. Within a category, products do not greatly differ in terms of cost and convenience, and nutritional differences are easily determined. Consumers are less likely to choose unhealthy foods due to cost or convenience advantages, or through ignorance. This makes the choice between taste and nutrition more apparent. We use annual expenditure data reported by a large sample of households participating in the AC Nielsen Homescan data system. For each of the food categories we develop a measure of ‘healthiness’ of household expenditures. This is regressed on household demographics and a measure of market prices. We find that households with college-educated heads and higher income households make significantly healthier choices in all the categories. The former was expected. However, although income is generally associated with healthier diets, this is usually attributed to the cost of healthy foods, an explanation inapplicable here. This suggests a deeper understanding of the role of income in diet is needed. As expected, the presence of children leads to a lowering of household nutrition, but primarily for cereal and bread: beverages are little affected. Older households tend to make healthier choices. Finally, we find a reasonably strong role for prices, perhaps reflecting high substitutability among products whose major difference essentially involves a single dimension.

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