People fill their grocery shopping carts with foods they like.

Obesity and What We Buy at the Supermarket

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can see the post here.


Do you like to check-out what other people have in their carts when doing your grocery shopping? I admit it, I do, but then I’m a nutrition expert. For me, watching what people buy at the supermarket is like looking through a microscope for a biologist.

One of the most interesting observations I repeatedly make is that having a higher income and access to better quality food does not necessarily mean you buy better groceries.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has noticed this.

Some fascinating new research has taken a look at what people eat when they live in so-called “food deserts” – typically poor urban areas with few grocery stores – and those who live in the burbs with endless choices. As it turns out, no one is filling their cart with the right stuff.

Quality of the American Diet

A study published in the February 2013 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics described how well the diets of Americans from different groups across the country stacked up when compared to the recommendations in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. The authors concluded that regardless of socioeconomic status, the diets of everyone 2 years and older were far less than optimal.

Of interest, children in the lowest income group had higher dietary scores than those in the higher income groups due to their participation in national School breakfast and Lunch Programs and Summer Food Service program. Also of note, suburban families ate more fast food meals because they were often in the car during the dinner hour traveling between various after school activities.

Availability of Better Quality Food

Another study compared the diets of more than 8,000 school children and how much they weighed to the number of food outlets in the different residential neighborhoods where they lived. The goal was to see if there was a connection between available food sources and obesity in children.

The researchers found poor neighborhoods had nearly twice as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores and more than three times as many corner stores compared to wealthier ones, but they also had twice as many supermarkets per square mile. When they analyzed all of the data the researchers concluded that exposure to the all of these food outlets does not independently explain weight gain in school age children.

A similar study conducted with more than 13,000 children and teenagers in California found no relationship between what type of food students ate, what they weighed, and the type of food available within a mile and a half of their homes. The researchers concluded living close to a supermarket did not make students thin and living close to a fast food outlet did not make them fat.

What’s On Your Shopping List?

These studies are important because there are still people who believe the only thing keeping overweight and obese Americans from losing weight is the availability of more fresh fruits and vegetables where they buy groceries. I never believed it based on what I saw other people putting in their shopping carts. Maybe the solution is a better shopping list?

Find other ways to shop smart when you buy groceries here:

  • Imagine Shopping Without Nutrition Facts on Labels
  • Want to Save Time and Money in the Supermarket?
  • Can Too many Food Choices lead to Obesity?
  • Eating Healthy on a Budget
Posted in Calories, Diet and Disease, Eating Habits, Eating Right, Food Groups, Food Selection, Food Shopping, HEALTH GOES STRONG, Health Risks, Healthy Lifestyle, Mindless Eating, Moderation, Obesity, Snacking, Weight Control and tagged , , , , .

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