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Retail Checkout Promotes Obesity: CSPI Report

90 Percent of Checkout Food Options Unhealthy; 60 Percent of Drink Options Sugar-Sweetened

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study of checkout aisles at a wide variety of supermarket and non-food retailers found that 90 percent of food options for sale were for candy, energy bars, chips, cookies, and other junk foods, and 60 percent of the beverage options were for soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

Researchers at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public characterized only eight percent of food items as "healthier," and just two percent of foods as actually "healthy," such as nuts and fruit. Their assessment of drinks for sale at standard checkout aisles revealed that 19 percent were water, 15 percent were diet soft drinks, 5 percent were ground coffee and tea bags, less than one percent were juice, and none was milk.

CSPI analyzed checkout aisles at 30 retailers representing 14 different store types in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, including supermarkets, such as Giant Food, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Safeway, and non-grocery stores, such as CVS, Dollar Tree, Office Depot, Old Navy, RadioShack, and Ace Hardware.

The vast majority (86 percent) of non-food stores in the study carried foods and/or beverages at checkout. For instance, a Bed, Bath, & Beyond outlet offered Nestlé Chunky bars and large bags of Milky Ways at a checkout aisle. An Old Navy displayed Air Heads, Pop Rocks, and Mentos at checkout. A Barnes & Noble outlet had an elaborate display of boxed Godiva chocolates, and a Books-a-Million sold, amidst the Nerds, Hot Tamales, and other candies, a five-pound, 6,120-calorie Gummy Bear. Most non-food retailers carried more gift cards, personal care items, batteries, and other merchandise than food.

Checkout aisles are contributing to the obesity epidemic, according to CSPI.

"Americans have a hard enough time maintaining healthy weights without retailers sabotaging their efforts," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "It's bad enough that supermarkets display soda and chips to prompt unplanned purchases at checkout. But why are so many stores pushing candy bars on people buying towels, toys, or kids' clothes?"

Just one of the 30 stores CSPI researchers visited offered what the chain described as a "family-friendly checkout." But that Giant Food's checkout aisle was the same as the store's other lanes in the amount and percentage of unhealthy food offerings.

Of the 21 non-food retailers that CSPI visited, only RadioShack, Home Depot, and Modell's sporting goods store did not sell any foods or beverages at checkout. Costco was the only food store that CSPI inspected that did not display any foods or drinks at checkout.

"In this age of diabetes and obesity, it's unethical for retailers to push people to buy and consume extra calories that will harm their health," said CSPI senior nutrition policy counsel Jessica Almy. "Food stores should set nutrition standards for the foods at checkout and non-food retailers should get out of the junk-food business altogether."

Earlier this month, CSPI released a study on the nutritional quality of the foods and beverages sold in vending machines on public property.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).