Junk foods dominate grocery checkout aisles, study finds

Rows of candy bars in a supermarket checkout lane.

As anyone grocery shopping with a child has probably noticed, the checkout aisles of grocery stores are often filled with candy, chips, soda, and other sweet or salty temptations. A new study by researchers at UIC, University of California, Berkeley, and University of California, Davis, quantifies this impulse sales trick, finding that seven out of 10 items in checkout lanes are unhealthy.

The research, published in Current Developments in Nutrition, observed over 100 stores in four California cities. The most commonly found categories in the checkout lanes were candy (38%), gum (18%), sugary beverages such as soda (11%) and salty snacks (9%). Healthy options such as water, fruits and vegetables or nuts appeared rarely as last-minute purchase options.

Researchers also found that more healthy foods and drinks were found in the checkout lanes of specialty food stores and large chains, while unhealthy treats predominated in dollar stores and independent grocery stores — the types often found in disadvantaged food desert neighborhoods.

“There’s an opportunity here for checkouts to offer more choice by expanding access to healthier options,” said lead author Jennifer Falbe in a UC Davis news release. “Currently, consumers lack choices at the checkout.”

The study’s co-authors included Samantha Marinello, Andrea Pipito, Rebecca Schermbeck and Lisa Powell from UIC. Powell, distinguished professor and director of the Division of Health Policy and Administration in the School of Public Health, researches the effects of public policy on behavioral outcomes. 

Read more about Powell’s research at UIC today.

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