Objective: This study was conducted to determine the importance of food cost in securing a healthy diet to combat non-communicable diseases. Several studies have evaluated whether healthier foods or diets cost more but a full range of health criteria has rarely been explored. Rather than merely comparing high and low energy dense foods, this study also included type of fat, vitamin, mineral and fibre content of foods in classifying them as healthy and less healthy.
Method: Both ‘commonly consumed’ and ‘all available’ foods were ranked according to their nutritional value and potential positive or negative contribution to the development of major health problems in Jamaica such as obesity and chronic diseases. The costs of 158 food items were averaged from supermarkets, municipal markets and wholesale outlets in six parishes across Jamaica. Cost differentials were then assessed in comparing healthy and less healthy foods.
Results: The study found that among the commonly consumed foods in Jamaica, healthy options cost J$88 (US$0.78) more than less healthy ones. However, when all the available food items were considered, the less healthy options cost more. The cheapest daily cost of a nutritionally balanced diet in Jamaica varied considerably by parish but was on average J$269 (US$2.40) per person. For a family of three, this translates approximately to the total minimum wage per week.
Conclusion: Eating healthy in Jamaica can be achieved at low cost if appropriate information on nutrient content/value for money is provided to consumers. Effective promotions by public and private sector agencies are essential for consumer choice to be optimal.