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A recent study determined what factors impact food purchasing habits of populations with different settings and socioeconomic statuses.

What influences people to buy certain foods and avoid others? Understanding the factors that influence our choices when we do groceries is an important aspect of improving public health.

The rise of social media has led to a growth in food marketing, causing changes in food purchasing trends, which in turn determines an individual’s food consumption. Food purchasing has been affected by lower prices on certain foods and drinks and higher prices on others. Environmental factors of the grocery store also have an impact on food purchasing, as well as the consumer’s education level.

A combination of these interventions encourages changes in the products purchased while at the grocery store, subsequently leading to changes in the consumer’s diet. A study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition assesses the degree of influence these interventions have on food purchasing, to better understand public health trends.

The researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial using data from 13 databases, searching for the following keywords: purchase behaviours, choice behaviours, grocery stores, food, and non-alcoholic beverages. They selected studies that attempted to alter food purchasing and were carried out in real or simulated grocery store settings. All the included studies were also assessed for biases prior to data collection. They then categorized the studies into groups depending on the type of intervention, economic, environmental, education, and swaps. The researchers conducted a qualitative comparative analysis to deduce their results.

They synthesized 35 studies consisting of over 20,000 participants, 800 stores, and 89 different interventions. The greatest effect on food purchasing was caused by financial interventions with six simulated studies and eight studies conducted in real stores showcasing these results. Education-based interventions were effective in simulated studies but not in those carried out in real grocery stores. In contrast, swap interventions indicated a causal relationship with food purchasing changes within real store studies. Environmental interventions displayed mixed data across both study types. Economic interventions in both study types, and environmental and swap interventions in real stores were deemed to significantly affect food purchasing.

The study revealed that financial incentives and the availability of certain foods in grocery stores are influential factors affecting food purchasing. These results convey valuable information for public health trends and may be used by governments and health professionals to develop nutrition programs in collaboration with grocery stores to improve the overall health of a specific population.

With changes in food availability and cost incentives favouring healthier food options, populations with unhealthier diets may be able to improve nutritional levels, thus reducing the risk of medical conditions and cause subsequent savings in medical care.

Written by Shrishti Ahuja, HBSc

Reference: Hartmann-Boyce, J., Bianchi, F., Piernas, C., Riches, S. P., Frie, K., Nourse, R., & Jebb, S. A. (2018). Grocery store interventions to change food purchasing behaviors: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 107(6), 1004-1016. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqy045

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