Is Healthy Food a Luxury for the Low-Income Households in the U.S.?” (Job Market Paper)

This paper studies how the quality of food purchased by low-income households changes after a positive income shock. Using induced changes in the household budget due to exogenous variation in the winter temperature that directly affects heating bills, I show that households do not improve the nutritional quality of their food purchases. Households below 130 percent of the poverty threshold increase total calorie amount without changing the composition of food purchases. Households above 130 percent of the poverty threshold purchase different products, but these products are of mixed nutritional quality. My findings suggest that policies that provide food subsidies face a trade-off subsidizing not just the increased consumption of healthy food but also the increased consumption of unhealthy food.

Covered: Marginal Revolution

“Food Access versus Product Choice: How Do the Low-Income Households in the U.S. Fill Their Grocery Baskets?”

This paper explores how much of the differences in the diet quality can be explained by the low food access and the inferior product quality choice of low-income households. The results reveal that food access has limited importance in explaining the nutritional disparities. Instead, low-income households choose lower price products that tend to have lower nutritional content. For example, low-income households on average (a) pay 11.2 percent less for bread than high-income households and (b) purchase bread with 9 percent less fiber. The findings suggest that quality choice within a set of similar products (e.g. salty snacks) is relevant for understanding differences in the diet quality across income groups. The findings question the usefulness of the policies incentivizing the supermarket entry in the low food access areas.