The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Removing unhealthy snacks from checkouts linked to fall in purchases

Policies removing sweets and crisps from checkouts could lead to fewer unhealthy eat 'on the go' purchases

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Policies that limit what types of food can be shelved in the checkout aisles of grocery stores could reduce junk food snacks by shoppers, suggests a study* published in PLOS Medicine.

A number of UK supermarkets have introduced policies voluntarily on what food should and shouldn't be displayed at their checkouts.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge looked at data on food purchases that had been recorded since 2013 by more than 30,000 households participating in a UK commercial household purchase panel, as well as data spanning 2016 and 2017 from a 7,500 person UK purchase panel. Information from nine large UK supermarket chains - six of which had introduced checkout food policies between 2013 and 2017 and three of which acted as controls – were analysed.

Introduction of checkout food policies was associated with an immediate 17.3% reduction in purchases of small packages of sugary confectionary, chocolate, and potato crisps per four-week span. One year following introduction of such a policy, the researchers found a 15.5% reduction in packages of these common checkout foods purchased per four weeks. Additionally, data on what people eat "on-the-go" revealed that in 2016 and 2017, 76.4% fewer small packages of sugary confectionary, chocolate, and potato crisps were bought from stores with checkout food policies.

Supermarket checkouts provide a unique location for prompting purchases as all customers have to pass through them to pay and may spend considerable time in queues.

"It may seem obvious that removing unhealthy food options from the checkout would reduce the amount that people buy, but it is evidence such as this that helps build the case for government interventions to improve unhealthy behaviours," said Dr Jean Adams from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research at the University of Cambridge.

"One such intervention might be to introduce nutritional standards for checkout food as suggested in the government's recent Childhood Obesity Plan. Such a government-led policy might prove attractive to supermarkets as it would provide a level playing field across the sector."

*Ejlerskov KT, Sharp SJ, Stead M, et al. Supermarket policies on less-healthy food at checkouts: Natural experimental evaluation using interrupted time series analyses of purchases. PLOS Medicine, 18 December 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002712

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470