Would Less Junk at Checkouts Reduce Unhealthy Snacking?

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • ObesityThe Brits are one-upping us with a new effort to curb their own rates of obesity.  The campaign, called “Junk Free Checkouts” is being led by the British Dietetic Association (BDA), Dieticians in Obesity Management (DOM UK), the Children’s Food Campaign, the British Dental Association and the publication Slimming World.  The idea is simple – remove all unhealthy snacks from the checkout counter.  These groups are also asking the government to force any supermarkets or food chains that don’t adopt this new policy voluntarily, to get on board. 


    The effort was instigated by findings from a nationwide survey that suggests that 8 in 10 shoppers are unhappy with the ample availability of sugary and high calorie drinks and snacks at most UK checkouts.  In particular, parents said that they hated being pestered by their kids to buy junk food on impulse when they are checking out, and these parents also said that they found it very hard to say no. 

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    Experts feel that these “unplanned calories” that are typically impulse buys generated by suddenly seeing a high fat, high sugar, high salt snack or drink that is positioned geographically so that it's the last thing you are seeing as you pay, are most definitely contributing to the obesity crisis in the UK.  And they are also responsible for “preventable” dental decay.   One of the problems this campaign will face is getting all involved parties to agree on the nutrition parameters that will determine if a food is a candidate for removal from the checkout area.  These foods also sell well, contributing significant sales to the bottom line of many food stores.  To remove them from the most strategic sales area will be a financially painful decision.  


    The British Retail Consortium currently offers the Responsibility Deal, as a pledge that retailers will voluntarily remove the agreed upon food items that are considered unhealthy from the checkout counter, and many retailers have already begun to offer healthier alternatives like fresh fruit, dried fruit, and nuts at checkout counters and also in other store sections. 


    While checkout counter impulse purchases are one issue that needs to be addressed, the customer’s shopping cart being wheeled around the store needs to be filled with mostly healthier choices too.  There are too many opportunities to grab less nutrient-dense options throughout the store, way before you even get to the checkout counter.  And those selected choices, long before you go to pay, comprise your daily diet and the bulk of your daily calories. 


    So mindful shopping and impulse control are far more weighty issues to be dealt with as you navigate the aisles of your local supermarket or deli, compared to a single impulse purchase as you get ready to pay your bill.  Still, some sobering statistics suggest that we really do need behavior modification and choice modification at the checkout counter:

    • 78% of shoppers in the UK find junk food at the checkout counter “annoying and hard to resist.”
    • 83% have been pestered by their kids to buy junk as they check out.
    • 75% have "given in" and made the purchase.
    • More than 90% of those queried thought that junk food at checkouts contributes to obesity.
    • Most respondents felt that there is a need to remove these “bad choices” from the checkout.
    • 56% would be more likely to shop at a supermarket that banned junk foods from checkouts.
    • Overall, though only 4% of those surveyed said they actually complained about this issue, while 64% said they would have complained if they knew how to approach this issue appropriately and effectively.

    So the question is…..Should the U.S. be the next stop for this “sales modification” approach to fighting obesity?  Share your thoughts!!


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    Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?  Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103.  Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.  


    Follow my blogs at: http://www.healthcentral.com/profiles/c/86903


Published On: September 20, 2013