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Checkout candy

It’s almost time for New Year’s resolutions. And if your goal is to make better decisions in the grocery store and lose weight in the new year, maybe the government can help.

It’s a common complaint about coupons, that most seem to be for things that aren’t good for you (read: “An Extreme Couponer Who’s Had Enough”). Truth is, a lot of what’s sold in supermarkets isn’t all that good for you. And much of what goes on sale isn’t, either. A recent British study suggests that perhaps authorities need to help change that.

“It is simply irresponsible for supermarkets to overly promote foods with high sugar and fat content,” writes professor Paul Dobson of the University of East Anglia. His three-year study found that supermarkets have been over-promoting and discounting too many sugary, fatty, unhealthy products. He advocates more “responsible marketing,” otherwise, “regulation might be needed.”

The results of three years’ worth of research come as common sense to many observers. “I’ve never seen a sale, discount or BOGO for organic carrots,” Bob Phibbs, the “Retail Doctor” tells RetailWire. “Until the demand for Tofu cookies increases dramatically,” adds grocery store owner Tony Orlando, “we will continue to promote what the customers want.”

If a government mandate forcing stores and shoppers to opt for healthier products seems far fetched, remember that New York recently banned the sale of super-sized sugary drinks in many stores. And over the summer, a British newspaper reported that the government was looking to use loyalty card data to snoop on what people were buying, and encourage them to make healthier choices (read: “Don’t Invade My Privacy! Unless You Have Coupons. Then It’s Ok.”). So far, there’s not a law mandating healthy price promotions in Britain, but there are voluntary efforts to change shoppers’ habits. One grocery store chain has replaced candy and chocolate in checkout displays with healthier impulse buys like multi-vitamin juice, fruit and water.

Some U.S.-based grocery stores have tried healthy checkout aisles, lest you think it’s just a British thing. But few have gone all the way and banned candy at the checkout altogether. The authors of another recent study say maybe they should. In “Candy at the Cash Register — A Risk Factor for Obesity and Chronic Disease,” recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the authors suggest “limiting the types of foods that can be displayed in prominent end-of-aisle locations and restricting foods associated with chronic diseases to locations that require a deliberate search to find.”

Shouldn’t such decisions be left to grocers – and shoppers? “Given the large proportion of people who claim that they want to lose weight and the small proportion who are actually able to do so,” the report says, “steps should be taken to mitigate that risk.”

So if you really want to eat healthier in the new year, try to control yourself at the supermarket checkout. Otherwise, those who would like to make the decision for you, might see to it that you don’t have a choice.


photo by: sfllaw

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