Healthy Food May Come at Higher Price for Native Americans

New research shows the price of healthy foods on or near Native American reservations can be more expensive when adhering to the USDA Thrifty Food Plan.


Healthy foods may be available in grocery stores in rural American Indian communities, but the price can be high. Researchers from University of Washington looked at the availability and cost of 68 food items that comprise the Nutrition Environment Measures Survey in Stores (NEMS-S), which evaluates whether food items adhere to the USDA Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). The TFP “market basket” represents the minimal cost of a healthy diet for a family of 4 for 1 week. The study included 27 stores within a 90-mile radius of the town center of a large American Indian reservation: 13 convenience stores, 10 grocery stores, 3 discount/dollar stores, and 1 discount supermarket. Of the surveyed stores, 10 were on the reservation, including 4 grocery stores.

All NEMS-S foods were available at the discount supermarket, and about 97% of the foods were available at the grocery stores. Convenience and discount/dollar stores were less likely to carry the foods.

The cost of a TFP market basket ranged from 3% lower to 24% higher than the national average. It also varied among the community stores: The TFP cost > 15% at the discount supermarket than at grocery stores ($152.91 vs $179.52). However, the researchers note that the cost of foods that made up the TFP market basket varied across food groups. For instance, the mean cost of dairy products was 43% lower at the discount supermarket than at the grocery stores, while fresh fruits and vegetables were 6% higher.

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