FRIDAY, Feb. 28, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- High prices for fresh fruits and vegetables increase the risk that children in low- and middle-income families will be overweight, according to a new study.
That's because when the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables rise, families with less money may purchase them less often and buy cheaper foods that have more calories and are less healthy, lead author Taryn Morrissey, an assistant professor of public administration and policy at American University's School of Public Affairs, said in a university news release.
The researchers analyzed national data collected on American children from infancy to age 5 and compared it to food price data. They concentrated on families under 300 percent of the federal poverty line. In 2013, that would be a family of four with an income of $70,650.
Fruit and vegetable prices rose 17 percent between 1997 and 2003 alone, according to the study. It found that youngsters in areas with higher fruit and vegetable prices had higher average body-mass index (BMI) scores than those in areas with lower-cost fruits and vegetables.
BMI is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight.
"These associations are driven by changes in the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables rather than frozen or canned," Alison Jacknowitz, a study co-author and associate professor of public administration at the AU School of Public Affairs, noted in the news release.
On the other hand, the researchers also found that higher fast food prices were associated with obesity in children. This could be because fast food chains may be more likely than grocery stores to boost their prices in response to greater demand for their products, Morrissey said.
She and her colleagues also discovered that higher costs for soft drinks may reduce the risk of obesity among young children, according to the study published online recently in the journal Pediatrics.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about child nutrition.