Policy change needed to ensure healthy food options in checkout lines, says expert

June 21, 2023—Most foods and beverages in grocery store checkout aisles are unhealthy—a reality that experts say is unlikely to change unless local, state, or federal laws are passed that require healthier options.

In a June 13 article in HealthDay, Eric Rimm, professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was among the experts interviewed about a recent study on the food and drink options consumers are faced with in checkout lines. The researchers analyzed the contents of the checkout aisles at 102 supermarkets, grocery stores, specialty food shops, drug stores, and dollar stores in California and found that about 70% of the foods and drinks offered are unhealthy. Moreover, 89% of the snack-sized options in checkout aisles are considered junk food.

Rimm, who was not involved in the study, told HealthDay that checkout aisles are filled with junk food largely because of the economic power held by the companies that produce those foods.

“The margins at supermarkets are low, and many supermarkets make more money selling spots in the store than they do selling food in the whole store,” said Rimm. “Candy and gum manufacturers make so much money on the products they put out there—it costs so little to make a chocolate bar versus how much they’re selling it for—that they actually likely have the extra dollars to compete with any other food manufacturer that would like to put their item in the checkout aisle.”

Rimm said that this dynamic is unlikely to change without policy interventions. Some individual big-box stores have experimented with implementing healthier checkout aisle options, but “it [would] be hard to convince every store to do that,” Rimm said. “Until you pass a law, I think it’s unlikely the stores will economically be able to do that.”

Read the article in HealthDay: Temptation Alley: Checkout Counters Are Prime Spots for Unhealthy Food