International trade and the neoliberal diet in Central America and the Dominican Republic: Bringing social inequality to the center of analysis

Marion Werner, Pavel Isa Contreras, Yeeli Mui, Hannah Stokes-Ramos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Scholarship on international trade and health analyzes the effects of trade and investment policies on population exposure to non-nutritious foods. These policies are linked to the nutrition transition, or the dietary shift towards meat and processed foods associated with rising overweight and obesity rates in low- and middle-income countries. We argue for expanding the trade and health literature's focus on population exposure through the concept of the neoliberal diet, which centers subnational social inequality as both an outcome of neoliberal agri-food trade policies and a determinant of dietary change. We develop this perspective through a regional analysis of non-nutritious food availability following the implementation of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), together with an extended case study, from the late 1990s to the present, of household expenditure and food price changes in the Dominican Republic, the region's largest food importer. Our analysis demonstrates that low-income consumers face increasing household food expenditures in a context of overall food price inflation, in addition to relatively higher price increases for healthy versus ultraprocessed foods. Neoliberal policies not only contribute to restructuring the availability and pricing of healthy food for low-income consumers, but they also exacerbate social inequality in the food system through corporate-controlled supply chains and farmer displacement. Our findings support policy proposals for socially distributive forms of healthy food production to stem the negative effects of the nutrition transition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112516
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Oct 2019


  • Central America
  • International trade
  • Neoliberalism
  • Nutrition transition
  • Political economy
  • Social inequality
  • The Caribbean

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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