A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine said that restrictions should be placed on the types of products allowed near checkouts to encourage healthier eating.
Unconscious purchasing decisions
The journal article by Deborah Cohen and Susan Babey said that impulse marketing strategies that place candy at cash registers created an obesity risk.
“Our reluctance to interfere with or regulate the food environment is a direct consequence of the belief that people's food choices reflect their true desires," they said.
“However, given the large proportion of people who claim that they want to lose weight and the small proportion who are actually able to do so, we must concede that human behavior doesn't always conform with professed goals,” they continued.
The authors said that food choices were made without full conscious awareness and were typically influenced by contextual factors such as marketing.
“Although placement is a factor that is right in front of our noses, we should consider treating it as a hidden risk factor, like carcinogens in water, because placement influences our food choices in a way that is largely automatic and out of our conscious control and that subsequently affects our risk of diet-related chronic diseases,” said Cohen and Babey.
Call for regulation
They said that consumers would be protected by limiting the types of foods that can be displayed in prominent end-of-aisle locations and restricting unhealthy foods to hard-to-find locations.
Products placed at prominent end-of-aisle locations account for about 30% of all supermarket sales, according to other studies.
Cadbury, an arm of Mondelez International, recently filed a patent application on packaging that inspires impulse purchasing closer to sales counters.