(Inside Science) – It doesn’t take much to get people to make healthier choices at the grocery store – just removing sweets and other unhealthy products from checkout and the ends of nearby aisles and placing fruit and vegetables near store entrances has a real impact on what people buy. This is the main conclusion of the file New study It was published last week in the magazine MEDICINE PLOS.
Very few people in the UK (and around the world) are eating enough fruits and vegetables, said Kristin Fogel, a public health nutrition researcher at the University of Southampton, who co-authored the study. Rather than blaming consumers or the cost of fresh food, Fogel said she’s really interested in looking at the food environment — the places where people get their food, especially supermarkets where many families buy most of what they eat. Vogel and her colleagues focused on the dietary choices that women of childbearing age make. Some of their preliminary findings showed that the food environment is important, especially for women who make poor food choices. Vogel reached out to a discount supermarket chain called Iceland, which it said is heavily used by more economically vulnerable families and younger adults who tend to follow a lower quality diet. I showed them a plan to change the store layout a bit to encourage them to buy healthy food.
In the study, the chain removed confectionery items from checkout areas and from the ends of aisles near checkout areas in three stores for six months each. Instead, they stocked those areas with non-food items like deodorant, water, and toothpaste and expanded fruit and vegetable sections near store entrances. They compared the buying habits of consumers in those stores with those of consumers in stores that did not change but had similar customers.
The study showed that increasing the range of fresh fruits and vegetables and placing them in an expanded area in front of the store increased customers’ purchases of fruits and vegetables significantly. The increase added nearly 10,000 extra servings of fruit and vegetables per week per store, which Fogel said could translate into significant improvements in residents’ diets. The study also found that there were 1,500 fewer portions of sweets bought each week in each store — a significant reduction in foods high in fat, sugar or salt.
The study also tracked customers who used supermarkets regularly, analyzing loyalty card data to see what they put in their shopping baskets. The researchers tracked them over a nine-month period and found that women – whom the researchers focused on because they often buy food for the family – shopped at health stores bought more fruits and vegetables, and this also translated into a healthier diet when they answered surveys about what they were eating . Fogel said the findings provide some additional support to the UK government’s intent Banning the sale of foods high in fat, salt or sugar At the front of the store, because it will reduce the number of occasions customers can interact with those foods. Other interventions, such as adding cues about healthy choices, have much less impact in the studies, Vogel said.
The study’s findings confirm other research that suggests food environments matter and that supermarkets can do more to encourage healthy choices without compromising the bottom line, said Alison Karpin, who co-directs the University of Delaware’s Center for Research Education and Social Policy. “Often, small changes in supermarkets, such as placing products in a different part of the store, on a different shelf, or with a larger label, can lead to big shifts in what shoppers buy — often without the shopper even realizing it,” She said. “And while the results may seem modest, if the effects are compounded across communities, the potential for improving public health is significant.”
Vogel said the next steps in her research include further research into the impact of putting non-food items at checkout, as many of the impulse purchases are made. She said limiting impulsive purchases is “a way to reduce the opportunity for individuals and families to add unnecessary calories.”
This story was published in Inside Science. Read the original text here.