October 11th, 2012
Grocery store product placement and obesity
By Jennifer LaRue Huget
The Washington Post
A paper published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine argues that the prominent placement of unhealthful food items in stores contributes to the obesity epidemic — and that it therefore should be curbed.
Deborah Cohen of RAND Health in Santa Monica, Calif., and Susan Babey of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research write in their Perspective piece “Candy at the Cash Register — A Risk Factor for Obesity and Chronic Disease” that our response to the nation’s obesity problem has relied on a “basic misconception” that our food choices are conscious and deliberate and are guided by our actual desires. But if that were the case, they observe, people who say they want to lose weight would easily be able to do so; their desire to lose weight would compel them to seek foods that comport with that goal.
Instead, the authors say, our food choices are largely guided by our responses to outside signals and stimuli. In the grocery store, it’s those chips, sodas and baked goods displayed on the end-rack shelves and the candy at the checkout line that do us in; vendors pay extra money to have their products placed in such prominent positions, and the foods so displayed beckon to us, even though we haven’t sought them out.