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As the late comedian Norm Macdonald was known to have joked, “Yet another groundbreaking story from the pages of the medical journal ‘Duh’.”

Academic studies aren’t always known for breaking new ground. But they sometimes reinforce and prove things we already know. For instance, if you want to make healthier choices at the grocery store, several new research studies are offering some tantalizing tips.

Such as – try avoiding the candy at the checkout!

A new study published this month in the medical journal PLOS Medicine says removing chocolate, candy and other sugary treats from grocery checkout displays and setting up prominent displays of fruits and vegetables near the store entrance will get shoppers to buy more produce and fewer sweets.

Go figure. The researchers tried this in several stores over a yearlong period, and even went so far as to ensure endcaps opposite the checkouts were filled with utilitarian, nonfood items. As a result, the study found “that storewide confectionery sales declined, and fruit and vegetable sales increased.”

When it comes to purchasing prominently-displayed items designed to catch your eye in the grocery store, they don’t call it impulse buying for nothing. The study comes out in favor of government efforts to mandate healthier grocery displays, noting that “bans on prominent placement of unhealthy foods in supermarkets could be beneficial for population diet, and effects may be even better if supermarkets were also required to place produce near their entrances.”

If you find that you can resist unhealthy treats at the checkout but your kids can’t, another study offers this practical advice – try leaving the kids at home.

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The study by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences appears in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services.

“Impulsive purchasing occurs when consumers succumb to urges to make purchases without careful evaluation,” the study explains helpfully. The study considered the purchasing behavior of those who shop alone, or shop with companions like spouses, friends or kids. The researchers found that if your children accompany you to the store, you’re more likely to make unplanned purchases – unhealthy ones, more often than not. So if you want to stick to your list and avoid unplanned, unhealthy purchases, don’t bring the kids – or at least learn to say “no.”

On the flip side, the study’s lead researcher says the results are useful for retailers. Sales of certain items “could significantly benefit from appealing to children,” he explained, since shoppers with kids “are more likely to respond to their children’s shopping suggestions.” So when you see tempting products placed at your kids’ eye level – keep in mind that’s no accident.

Finally, there are coupons to consider. The whole point of coupons is to encourage you buy items you otherwise might not. So who could have imagined that offering coupons for healthy products might encourage you to buy more healthy products?

That’s the startling conclusion of a study published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open. “Personalized interventions,” such as customized coupons, “could help improve dietary intake by using individual purchasing preferences to promote healthier grocery purchases,” the study found.

The researchers offered some study participants generic coupons for discounts on anything in the store, while others received specific coupons for healthy products related to items they’d previously purchased. Turns out those who received the customized coupons were more likely to make healthier purchases. That led the researchers to conclude that a large-scale program incentivizing better-for-you grocery purchases “may be a promising population-based strategy for improving dietary intake.”

So there you have it – if you want to make better choices at the grocery store, then skip the checkout treats, leave the kids at home, and make sure you seek out coupons on healthy items. And if they’re conclusions you could have reached on your own without the help of academic researchers, just remember that mythical medical journal isn’t called “Duh” for nothing.

Image source: Simon Shek

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