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Competitive pricing for healthy foods

Health Factors: Diet & Exercise
Decision Makers: Educators Employers & Businesses Local Government State Government Federal Government
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 10-19% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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Competitive pricing assigns higher costs to non-nutritious foods relative to nutritious foods. Competitive pricing can be implemented in various settings, including schools, worksites, grocery stores or other food retail outlets, cafeterias, and vending machines. Competitive pricing can take the form of incentives, subsidies, or price discounts for healthy foods and beverages and/or disincentives or price increases for unhealthy foods and beverages. 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased sales of healthy foods
Increased healthy food consumption

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that competitive pricing increases sales of low fat foods, fruits, vegetables, and water (Fox 2005a, French 2001, Jaime 2009Kim 2006, Kocken 2012, An 2013, AHA-Mozaffarian 2012). Price discounts or subsidies for healthier foods have also been shown to increase healthier food consumption (An 2013, AHA-Mozaffarian 2012).

Pricing affects individual behavior; adults and teenagers have been shown to purchase items that are lower in cost, whether those items are healthy or unhealthy (French 2001). Reductions in the price of low fat snacks, fruits, and vegetables increase sales of these products (Fox 2005a, Jaime 2009, Kim 2006, Kocken 2012, An 2013). Effect sizes tend to be proportional; larger price differences between lower cost healthy foods and higher cost unhealthy foods are linked to greater improvements in healthy food consumption (AHA-Mozaffarian 2012).

Preliminary evidence from price discount interventions suggests that the demand for healthy foods such as fruits and low fat snacks are price elastic, which means a 1% price decrease is associated with more than a 1% increase in quantity demanded (An 2013). In some studies, positive behavior changes following subsidies that reduce the price of fruits and vegetables were sustained several months after subsidies ended. Other studies suggest that lower income populations may be more sensitive to prices than higher income populations, and youth more sensitive than adults (AHA-Mozaffarian 2012).

Lowering the price of healthy foods or raising the price of unhealthy foods has not been shown to significantly decrease revenue in school settings (Fox 2009, Kim 2006, Kocken 2012).


United States

Many schools have implemented competitive pricing in their cafeterias and vending machines, for example, North Community High School in Minneapolis, MN, Vista High School in Vista, CA, the Fayette County Public School District in Lexington, KY (Fox 2005a), Marshall County Schools in AL, and Boston Public Schools (IPHI-HCFS).

Workplace wellness policies often include competitive pricing strategies in vending machines and cafeterias. For example, in Michigan and North Dakota, worksite wellness guides encourage large and small workplaces to adopt competitive pricing for healthy foods (MI DCH-WW guide 2008, ND WW-Resources).  


A number of Wisconsin school districts restrict or increase prices on non-nutritious foods, including Lac du Flambeau, Appleton, Marshfield, Platteville, and Middleton-Cross Plains (Fox 2005a).

Implementation Resources

AHA-VFHK toolkits - American Heart Association (AHA), Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Voices for healthy kids (VFHK): Toolkits to make the healthy choice the easy choice in the places where children live, learn and play. Accessed on March 13, 2018

Citations - Evidence

AHA-Mozaffarian 2012 - Mozaffarian D, Afshin A, Benowitz NL, et al. Population approaches to improve diet, physical activity, and smoking habits: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). Circulation. 2012;126(12):1514–63. Accessed on March 13, 2018
An 2013* - An R. Effectiveness of subsidies in promoting healthy food purchases and consumption: A review of field experiments. Public Health Nutrition. 2013;16(7):1215-28. Accessed on March 13, 2018
Fox 2005a - Fox S, Meinen A, Pesik M, Landis M, Remington PL. Competitive food initiatives in schools and overweight in children: A review of the evidence. Wisconsin Medical Journal. 2005;104(5):38-43. Accessed on March 13, 2018
Fox 2009* - Fox MK, Dodd AH, Wilson A, Gleason PM. Association between school food environment and practices and body mass index of US public school children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109(2 Suppl):S108-S117. Accessed on March 13, 2018
French 2001* - French SA, Story M, Jeffrey RW. Environmental influences on eating and physical activity. Annual Review of Public Health. 2001;22:309–35. Accessed on March 13, 2018
Jaime 2009* - Jaime PC, Lock K. Do school based food and nutrition policies improve diet and reduce obesity? Preventive Medicine. 2009;48(1):45-53. Accessed on March 13, 2018
Kim 2006 - Kim D, Kawachi I. Food taxation and pricing strategies to “thin out” the obesity epidemic. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2006;30(5):430-7. Accessed on March 13, 2018
Kocken 2012* - Kocken PL, Eeuwijk J, Van Kesteren NMC, et al. Promoting the purchase of low-calorie foods from school vending machines: a cluster-randomized controlled study. Journal of School Health. 2012;82(3):115–22. Accessed on March 13, 2018

Citations - Implementation

Fox 2005a - Fox S, Meinen A, Pesik M, Landis M, Remington PL. Competitive food initiatives in schools and overweight in children: A review of the evidence. Wisconsin Medical Journal. 2005;104(5):38-43. Accessed on March 13, 2018
IPHI-HCFS - Illinois Public Health Institute (IPHI). Controlling junk food and the bottom line: Tip sheet 5: Improving cafeteria strategies to support healthier competitive foods standards (HCFS). Accessed on March 13, 2018
MI DCH-WW guide 2008 - Michigan Department of Community Health (MI DCH). Michigan's healthy workplaces resource guide: A worksite wellness resource guide for Michigan worksites - large and small (WW guide). 2008. Accessed on March 13, 2018
ND WW-Resources - North Dakota Worksite Wellness (ND WW). Worksite wellness building a healthy North Dakota: Additional resources: Nutrition. Accessed on March 13, 2018

Page Last Updated

October 22, 2015

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