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Professor Steve Block Explores Cost and Affordability of Nutritious Diets at Retail Prices

Explores Nutrient vs. caloric adequacy: Evidence from 177 countries.

Steven A. Block is a Professor of International Economics and director of the international development program at The Fletcher School. His research focuses on food and agricultural policy in developing countries, and on the political economy of policy reform. Much of his work concentrates on sub-Saharan Africa.  

What questions does this research address?

Many policies and programs aim to bring nutritious diets within reach of the poor. This paper uses retail prices and nutrient composition for 671 foods and beverages to compute the daily cost of essential nutrients required for an active and healthy life in 177 countries around the world. The study compares this minimum cost of nutrient adequacy with the subsistence cost of simply consuming sufficient calories and with per capita spending on all goods and services to identify stylized facts about how these costs relate to economic development and nutrition outcomes.  Globally, a nutritionally adequate diet costs over 2.5 times the cost of a diet that merely meets minimum caloric requirements.

What are the primary findings?

Our work provides a practical method for selecting and aggregating foods in the proportions required for nutrient adequacy, identifying targets of opportunity for food systems to reduce diet costs and improve access to nutritious diets among the poor. The high cost of adequate nutrition indicates the need for targeted transfer programs and safety nets to help people meet nutritional needs.  This study also demonstrates the benefits of tracking nutritional value and prices of available foods as bases for accurate targeting of food system interventions.

Publication:

“Cost and affordability of nutritious diets at retail prices:  Evidence from 177 countries,” with Yan Bai, Robel Alemu, Steven A. Block, Derek Headey, and Will Masters.  Food Policy, online publication 13 Oct. 2020.