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70% of foods and drinks at store checkouts are unhealthy

70% of foods and drinks at store checkouts are unhealthy

A new study reveals that 70% of food and drink at the till is unhealthy.

The study also reveals that an even higher proportion of snack options are unhealthy – 89%.

A study published in the journal Current developments in nutrition suggests that the majority of food and drink options at checkout are made up of sweets (31%), sugar-sweetened beverages (11%), salty snacks (9%) and sweets (6%).

Healthy products are far less common. Water represents 3% of food and beverages, followed by nuts and seeds (2%), fruits and vegetables (1%), legumes (0.1%) and milk (0.02%).

Food and beverage companies see the checkout as prime real estate for their products, says lead author Jennifer Falbe, an associate professor in the department of human ecology at the University of California, Davis. The cash register is the only place in the store that every customer has to go through, and it’s known to contribute to impulse buying, she says.

“The check-out bar was designed this way through marketing agreements where food and beverage companies pay stores to put their products — which are mostly unhealthy — on the register,” says Falbe.

Researchers analyzed tapes in 102 grocery stores in Davis, Sacramento, Oakland, and Berkeley, California. Stores included supermarkets, grocery stores, specialty food stores, drug stores, dollar stores, and mass merchandisers.

They conducted their assessment in February 2021, just before the city of Berkeley’s ordinance went into effect requiring large grocery stores to offer more nutritious offerings at checkout. Berkeley became the first city in the US to implement a healthy payment policy.

Falbe says Berkeley’s policy is in line with federal dietary guidelines that emphasize eating nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds and reducing sodium and added sugars.

“The majority of the American population exceeds the daily recommended limits for sugar and sodium intake,” says Falbe. “Berkeley’s billing policy allows certain food and beverage categories at checkout (eg, unsweetened beverages, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dairy) and places limits on the amount of added sugar and sodium in the product at checkout. Customers can still get candy from the candy aisle, but it won’t be forced on them at checkout.”

The study used Berkeley’s policy as a benchmark to measure the health of products at checkout. Researchers found that the percentage of food and beverage options meeting healthy checkout standards was highest in specialty food chains, supermarket chains, and mass-market chains. It was lowest in chain and independent grocery stores, which are more common in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Collection areas can strongly influence consumer choice. Falbe says he hopes these findings can be used to improve the food environment for people in all neighborhoods.

“There’s an opportunity here for cash registers to offer more choice by expanding access to healthier options,” says Falbe. “Right now, consumers are lacking choice at the checkout.”

Additional co-authors are from the University of Illinois, Chicago and UC Davis.

This work was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Food Policy Program.

Source: UC Davis

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