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Temptation at Checkout

The Food Industry's Sneaky Strategy for Selling More

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The food environment—comprised of people’s surroundings and the marketing they are exposed to—influences what foods people buy and eat.

Retail stores, including supermarkets, big box stores (like Walmart), warehouse stores, and convenience stores, are set up to prompt people to purchase particular foods and more food through their layout, product displays, and in-store promotions. Many Americans have thought a lot about the healthfulness of their diets. Nonetheless, most also consume more calories, saturated fat, salt, and refined/added sugars, and fewer fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than are recommended for good health. As a result, many Americans end up suffering from nutrition-related diseases or disabilities.

This report examines one reason why it is so difficult to eat well in America today: retail marketing manipulates food choices. We conclude that with high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases due to poor nutrition, the retail environment should be shaped not only by economic drivers but also by public health considerations. We propose beginning with the checkout aisles of retail stores, where the vast majority of purchases are unplanned. By rethinking checkout, retailers could support their customers’ health, rather than pushing the consumption of extra—and often unwanted—calories from candy, soda, and other unhealthy foods and beverages.