Cost and affordability of nutritious diets at retail prices: Evidence from 177 countries uri icon


  • Many policies and programs aim to bring nutritious diets within reach of the poor. This paper uses retail prices and nutrient composition for 671 foods and beverages to compute the daily cost of essential nutrients required for an active and healthy life in 177 countries around the world. We compare this minimum cost of nutrient adequacy with the subsistence cost of dietary energy and per-capita spending on all goods and services, to identify stylized facts about how diet cost and affordability relate to economic development and nutrition out-comes. On average, the most affordable nutrient adequate diet exceeds the cost of adequate energy by a factor of 2.66, costing US$1.35 per day to meet median requirements of healthy adult women in 2011. Affordability is lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The sensitivity of diet costs to each requirement reveals the high cost of staying within acceptable macronutrient ranges, particularly the upper limit for carbohydrates. Among micronutrients, total diet costs are most sensitive to requirements for calcium as well as vitamins A, C, E, B12, folate and riboflavin. On average, about 5% of dietary energy in the least-cost nutrient adequate diets is derived from animal source foods, with small quantities of meat and fish. Over 70% of all animal products in least-cost diets is eggs and dairy, but only in upper-middle and high-income countries. In lower income countries where egg and dairy prices are significantly higher, they are replaced by larger volumes of vegetal foods. When controlling for national income, diet costs are most significantly correlated with rural travel times and rural electrification. These data suggest opportunities for targeted policies and programs that reduce market prices and the cost of nutritious diets, while improving affordability through nutrition assistance, safety nets and higher earnings among low-income households.

publication date

  • 2021
  • 2020