July 23 (UPI) -- What's on the menu? Far too often, it's cheap, unhealthy foods, which are a leading risk factor for about one-fifth of all deaths around the world, new research shows.
New research shows that price differences for healthy and unhealthy foods can lead to malnourishment, obesity and other diet-related health problems, according to a study published Tuesday in The Journal of Nutrition.
"Our research shows that most healthy foods are substantially more expensive in poorer countries," Derek Headey, a researcher at International Food Policy Research Institute and study co-author, said in a news release. "But while healthier foods become cheaper over the course of development, so too do unhealthy processed foods, like soft drinks."
To figure out the higher cost of healthier eating, the researchers used prices for 657 food products throughout 176 countries. They looked at price differences between nutrient-filled foods compared to calorie-heavy staples that contribute to adult obesity and child stunting.
People in poor countries pay up to 10 times the price for healthy foods like milk and eggs than for starchy foods like bread and rice. Cereals packed with nutrients can also cost up to 30 times as much as the traditional, sugar-filled cereals.
"The link between milk prices and stunting is especially strong," said Harold Alderman, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute and study co-author, "which is entirely consistent with a whole body of evidence on the strong linkages between dairy consumption and child growth."
To slow down the consumption of bad diets, the researchers recommend that lawmakers tax and regulate the purchase of unhealthy foods, as well as label packaging with nutritional contents.
"These findings raise an important agenda for future research: understanding why food prices vary across countries, and sometimes within them, and how best to change food prices in a way that leads to better diets and nutrition outcomes in rich and poor countries alike," Headey said.