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Unhealthy Food and Drink Options Overrun Store Checkouts


The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has released a new report, “Sugar Overload: Retail Checkout Promotes Obesity.” The report is the result of a survey of food and beverage options available in checkout aisles, which ultimately showed that 90 percent of available options were unhealthy.

Research shows that the presence of snack foods near a checkout register increases the probability that people will buy and consume them. Additional research shows that just the availability of food has an influence on what – and how much – people eat , and can even act as a powerful cue that stimulates feelings of hunger.

Seeking to understand what items are commonly available for consumers at checkouts, CSPI focused their research on two main options – food and beverages – and also took note of the availability of non-food merchandise. The research was conducted on 41 checkout aisles in 30 different stores in Washington, D.C., and included various types of stores, from grocery and convenience stores to hardware, toy and electronics stores.

“CSPI found that food and beverages at checkout are pervasive not only in supermarkets, but also in many stores that are not in the business of selling food. We found Nestlé Chunky bars and large bags of Milky Ways at a Bed, Bath, & Beyond outlet, and Air Heads, Pop Rocks, and Mentos at an Old Navy checkout. We decided to call our report “Sugar Overload” because of the prevalence of candy and sugar-sweetened beverages we observed at checkout,” says Jessica Almy, CSPI’s Senior Nutrition Policy Counsel.

Overall, just more than half (53 percent) of all store checkout offerings are foods or beverages. Specifically, foods and beverages made up 84 percent of checkout offerings at food stores, but only accounted for 40 percent of checkout options and non-food stores.

Among the foods offered most often at checkouts, candy was most common (two in five items available were candy), followed by gum, energy bars, chips and cookies. CSPI’s research found that only three of the 41 stores surveyed offered fresh fruit at checkout.

Soda and other sugary drinks – for example, sugar-sweetened beverages, sports and energy drinks – account for almost two-thirds of checkout beverage options. Of those, the majority of drinks offered were soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages (60 percent), followed by water (19 percent) and diet or non-caloric drinks (15 percent), meaning that sugar-sweetened beverages were displayed three times more often than water.

The study also analyzed various types of checkout lines – standard aisles, express checkouts, self-checkouts, and one family-friendly checkout – but found little difference between the offerings at each type of checkout. Self-checkouts did have less items displayed overall (and some had none), though two-thirds of the offerings that were available were unhealthy.

CSPI concludes the report by offering several recommendations based on their results, including a request for stores to stop selling foods and beverages at checkout, or to only offer healthy options there. Additionally, they suggest that stores could “adopt nutrition standards that set limits for calories, saturated fats, sugars, and sodium, and ensure that foods include meaningful amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low‐fat dairy, or nuts.”

The full report is available to read online here.