By Thierry Malleret, economist

By Thierry Malleret, economist

A new academic paper on nutritional inequality in the U.S. sheds some light on the relevance of “culture” in eating and nutrition. For many years, economists and public health experts have known that a substantial dietary discrepancy exists between the rich and poor.

In short: high-income households eat more healthily because they tend to buy more fruits, vegetables and proteins. However, the exact mechanisms that underpin this discrepancy cannot be fully explained by supply-side factors (the cost or availability of food) – they aren’t yet fully understood and remain subject to debate.

According to this new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, groups that eat less healthily include consumers who (1) make less money, (2) have less education, (3) possess lower levels of nutrition knowledge and (4) live in specific geographic areas (like south central Montana). This latter point - the role of regions in contributing to nutritional inequality - suggests that culture and habits play a more prominent role than was anticipated. It also raises the possibility that intergenerational transmission of preferences partly dictates food choices.

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AuthorThierry Malleret, Economist and Founder, Monthly Barometer