Convenience Stores Promote Unhealthy Food Purchases

Charlie Plain | November 16, 2016

Many people rely on convenience stores and gas marts for everyday groceries or a quick snack. But new research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health shows that making good nutritional choices at such stores is more difficult due to the prominent placement of advertisements and products that encourage people to purchase less healthy foods.

The study was published in the CDC’s publication Preventing Chronic Disease and co-written by Associate Professor Darin Erickson, Professor Lisa Harnack, and Associate Professor Melissa Laska.

“We found that there were more unhealthy foods on the exterior and interior of stores, including near checkouts, suggesting that consumers are purchasing these foods more often than healthy foods,” says Tim Barnes, lead author and a School of Public Health research associate at the time of the study. 

The study examined food and advertising in corner/small grocery stores, gas-food marts, pharmacies, and dollar stores. The results showed that advertisements for healthy foods and beverages were found in less than half of the stores surveyed, whereas ads for unhealthy items, such as chips and prepared foods, were seen in approximately half of stores. Gas-food marts most commonly advertised both healthy and unhealthy foods.

In terms of food placement, 77 percent of stores featured at least one healthful item positioned as an easy-to-reach, last-minute “impulse buy,” and 98 percent of stores had at least one unhealthy item placed for purchase at checkout.  

“These small and non-traditional food stores are set up to promote and sell unhealthy foods and beverages,” says Barnes. “We need to figure out ways of promoting healthier options in these settings, especially in ways that are acceptable to customers and end up not impacting the bottom line for retailers.”

Barnes suggests that strategies to combat this issue include placing healthier foods and beverages in grab-and-go displays near store entrances and checkouts, and increasing the visibility of healthier food and beverage options on the outside of stores.

Additionally, future interventions and policies should encourage a reduction of unhealthy advertisements and impulse buys and encourage the advertising and placement of healthier products.

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