FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes
FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes
FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes

Are healthy diets really more expensive than unhealthy diets? Understanding drivers of choice of healthy and unhealthy food and drinks in Australia and the UK (Funded by the QUEX Institute)


Medical School

Prof R Smith Monday, August 31, 2020 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD programme provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants. The studentship provides funding for up to 42 months (3.5 years).

Project Description

There is a popular perception, based on some evidence, that healthy food costs more than unhealthy food, and since price is a major determinant of demand, that addressing this price imbalance will rebalance consumption of healthy versus unhealthy foods. This has been the rationale behind the high-profile rise of various ‘fat tax’ and ‘sugar tax’ initiatives in recent years.

However, when the cost of the whole diet is considered, evidence from Australia found that healthy diets could be less expensive than current (unhealthy) diets. There is concern, also, that taxing specific products does not necessarily lead to overall healthier dietary patterns. These observations cast doubt on the relative importance of price as the critical driver of food choice in the context of the whole diet, and this remains a significant gap in evidence underlying related health and fiscal policies. The assumption from which this study departs is that demand is affected not only by price but also by consumers’ knowledge, attitudes, behaviours, and socio-demographic characteristics, as well as by food availability.

Prices are key contributors for demand, and while some evidence backs the popular perception that some healthy food items are more expensive than their unhealthy counterparts, studies of the total cost of diets, rather than foods per se, may be required given the challenges around study design and statistical coupling that affect some approaches. Under Australian fiscal policy settings, healthy diets can be up to 15% less expensive than unhealthy diets.

Prices are not the only factor shaping food demand. Therefore, the analysis will also consider additional elements, such as access, food preferences and values, ‘taste’, food literacy, ability to prepare and store foods, perceptions of ‘healthiness’ etc. Consumer attitudes may be responsible for many of the final food choices made. Those attitudes are affected by culture and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as by marketing strategies, and other environmental conditions.

The aim of this project is to add to the evidence base around food and diet costs and drivers of food choice. Specifically to: (i) establish if the findings in Australia are unique or replicated elsewhere, in this case the UK; (ii) establish the relative importance of price as a driver for food choice vis other factors of known importance (income, price of other products, convenience, access, knowledge, preferences etc.) in a cross-country comparison. These will be unique contributions to the literature in this area.


For more information about this studentship including how to apply, please follow the instructions detailed on the following webpage http://www.exeter.ac.uk/studying/funding/award/?id=3902

Funding Notes

Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,000 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £15,000 are available over the 3.5 year studentship


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