"The results of this study find that individuals living in rural areas, particularly food desserts, may be at increased risk of negative health effects as a result of more limited access to higher quality foods compared to those living in urban areas," says the report of the University of Kentucky study, "Food Cost Disparities in Rural Communities," published in Health Promotion Practice.
Researchers analyzed the per-serving cost of 92 foods four times over a 10-month period in the primary grocery stores in four Kentucky counties, two rural and two urban. One rural county was considered a food desert, meaning that fresh produce isn't relatively available. The commonly purchased foods in the study were assigned to one of four categories based on their nutritional value.
Not surprisingly, the cheapest foods were those with the least nutritional value, such as canned fruit in heavy syrup, cereals with high-fructose corn syrup, and processed meats. Foods that are a bit more nutritional, but mainly processed convenience foods, were more expensive in rural counties than urban counties. Foods that were considered nutritious, but not the most nutritious, such as white rice, oats, whole-grain bran cereals and frozen fish, cost the most in the rural county with the highest poverty rate.
The cost of the most nutritional items varied by county, with the "most striking finding" being that "the rural food desert had significantly higher per-serving costs among the most nutritious food items, compared to the other three counties," 6 to 8 cents higher per item, the report said.