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Supermarket intervention prompted shoppers to buy more produce

May 17, 2012|By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
  • Shoppers who spent a few minutes with a "nutrition educator" purchased more fruits and vegetables than shoppers who didn't, according to a new study.
Shoppers who spent a few minutes with a "nutrition educator"… (Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg…)

We’re fat, in case you hadn’t heard. And as we learned last week, 42% of American adults will be obese by 2030, according to researchers at the Weight of the Nation conference sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If that’s a party you’d rather miss, the grocery store is a place to start. Nutritionists often advise us to buy fresh food and stick to the perimeters of the store (instead of the middle aisles that are stocked with Oreos, Doritos and Froot Loops).

But there are thousands of products and many labels to wade through. And even the most determined shopper can have trouble resisting the thousands of cheap products with lots of sugar or fat.

Researchers in Arizona looked at whether a little education could change what goes in the supermarket basket. They recruited 153 people who were randomly selected at a supermarket in Phoenix.

Some shoppers got counseling from a nutrition educator, who offered an overview of labels and shelf signs in the store that tagged products as being a “healthier option” or “immune booster” or “calcium rich,” among other attributes set out in federal and American Heart Assn. guidelines. The educational sessions lasted last than 10 minutes.

The rest of the shoppers were left to use the shelf signs and labels on their own.

Study leader Brandy-Joe Milliron, who was part of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University at the time, says that ads, coupons, recipes and demonstrations have shown a modest effect on what people buy. So she and two colleagues decided to test whether an intervention from a live person might make more of a difference.

After the volunteers shopped, researchers assessed their choices for fat, saturated fat, trans fat, fruit, vegetables, and dark green and bright yellow vegetables. The sessions didn’t have any effect on the total servings of vegetables purchased, nor did they influence the amount of total fat, saturated fat or trans fat they put in their carts. But the shoppers who got the counseling did buy twice as many dark green and yellow vegetables and 75% more fruit.

“Even these modest effects could translate into meaningful health benefits if sustained long term,” the researchers reported in the May-June issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. They concluded that more evaluations should be done to see whether shoppers’ purchases can be influenced.

You can read a summary of the study results online.

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