Introduction Food pricing policies to promote healthy diets, such as taxes, price manipulations, and food subsidies, have been tested in different settings. However, little consensus exists about the effect of these policies on the availability of healthy and unhealthy foods, on what foods consumers buy, or on the impact of food purchases on consumer health outcomes. We conducted a systematic review of studies of the effect of food-pricing interventions on retail sales and on consumer purchasing and consumption of healthy foods and beverages. Methods We used MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, Web of Science, ClinicalTrials. gov, and the Cochrane Library to conduct a systematic search for peer-reviewed articles related to studies of food pricing policies. We selected articles that were published in English from January 2000 through December 2016 on the following types of studies: 1) real-world experimental studies (randomized controlled trials, quasi-experimental studies, and natural experiments); 2) population studies of people or retail stores in middle-income and high-income countries; 3) pricing interventions alone or in combination with other strategies (price promotions, coupons, taxes, or cash-back rebates), excluding studies of vending-machine or online sales; and 4) outcomes studies at the retail (stocking, sales) and consumer (purchasing, consumption) levels. We selected 65 articles representing 30 studies for review. Results Sixteen pricing intervention studies that sought to improve access to healthy food and beverage options reported increased stocking and sales of promoted food items. Most studies (n = 23) reported improvement in the purchasing and consumption of healthy foods or beverages or decreased purchasing and consumption of unhealthy foods or beverages. Most studies assessed promotions of fresh fruits and vegetables (n = 20); however, these foods may be hard to source, have high perishability, and raise concerns about safety and handling. Few of the pricing studies we reviewed discouraged purchasing and consumption of unhealthy foods (n = 6). Many studies we reviewed had limitations, including lack of formative research, process evaluation, or psychosocial and health assessments of the intervention's impact; short intervention duration; or no assessment of food substitutions or the effects of pricing interventions on food purchasing and diets. Conclusion Pricing interventions generally increased stocking, sales, purchasing, and consumption of promoted foods and beverages. Additional studies are needed to differentiate the potential impact of selected pricing strategies and policies over others.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health Policy
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health