(CN) – Sugary candies and fatty snacks at the supermarket checkout stand can throw a wrench into any person’s diet, but a study released Tuesday says stores can help shoppers make healthier food choices if they put that junk food out of reach.
Grocery stores that replaced candy and chips at the checkout stand with healthier foods like nuts and water saw an immediate shift in shopper’s buying habits as stated in the study published Tuesday in PLOS Medicine.
Obesity rates have nearly tripled worldwide in the last 40 years and in 2016 more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight – with 650 million labeled as obese – according to a report by the World Health Organization.
Multiple culprits are to blame for the uptick in obesity rates, including children’s exposure to high-fat, high-sugar and nutritionally poor foods which tend to be cheap and readily available.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom reviewed the food purchases of 30,000 shoppers at nine large supermarkets, six of which adopted a healthier check stand policy.
In their study, researchers reviewed purchasing trends at the stores from 2013 to 2017 and found the supermarkets that removed unhealthy foods where shoppers make impulse purchases saw a decrease in single-serve snack purchases over a four-week period.
Replacing candies, chocolate and potato chips with dried fruits, nuts, juices and water resulted in a 17 percent decline in unhealthy food purchases. A year later, unhealthy food sales were about 15 percent lower.
When researchers looked at what types of foods people ate from 2016 to 2017 while they were “on-the-go” versus what they bought and took home, they found 76 percent fewer small packages of junk foods were purchased at markets with a healthy check stand policy.
While the data show food policies like the one adopted by the six supermarkets do help people make healthier food choices, head author Jean Adams from the University of Cambridge acknowledged the study was not a medical trial so there was no accounting for those changes in people’s shopping habits.
Still, future studies could look at how supermarkets and shoppers change their behavior when they consider new food policies and how the public might feel if supermarkets and politicians had more say in what they can eat.