Breaking Barriers for Better Nutrition

The Lempert Report
April 18, 2014

Supermarket shoppers who attach importance to good nutrition have higher quality diets.

In a recent Food, Nutrition & Science article, we learnt from a University of Washington study that Supermarket shoppers who attach importance to good nutrition have higher quality diets, no matter the socio-economic level of the market they shop at.

Study co-author Dr. Anju Aggarwal, explained his motivation for the research by saying, "I firmly believe that if you are motivated to eat healthy and prioritize it well, you can achieve a healthier diet.  This further encouraged me to test this hypothesis using our King County Sample from the Seattle Obesity Study,”

In this study, 13 supermarket chains were investigated and separated into three categories for low, medium and high cost, and 963 adults were sampled. Diet quality was measured looking at energy density, mean adequacy ratio and total servings of fruits and vegetables.

Results showed that shoppers with positive attitudes also shopped at low- and medium-cost supermarkets, in addition to higher cost supermarkets. Healthy eating was not restricted to high-cost markets, and those with positive attitudes toward healthy eating achieved higher-quality diets within each cost level of supermarkets, independent of their socio-economic status. Generally shopping at low-cost supermarkets has been perceived as a barrier to achieving higher quality diets, however, this study should serve as a positive reminder that consumers can achieve good nutrition with the right attitudes in place.

With this study in mind, the question remains, how do we achieve these positive attitudes? Ensuring physical access to supermarkets (because of the food desert plight) has been one successful strategy in improving diet quality among risk groups. But also important is access to nutrition education and tips for customers on how to cook healthy foods and meal ideas.  

There's also the idea that healthy food is more expensive. But as Bethany Thayer, Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, explains, there needs to be a "re-education" on what shoppers are actually getting for their money.  For example, a dollar can buy a candy bar or an orange. The candy bar will be 250 to 350 calories with virtually no nutrients while the orange provides 60 to 80 calories and 100% of your Vitamin C needs, potassium, fiber and other nutrients our body needs to stay healthy. 

Whatever the barrier, it seems nutrition education is the key. Supermarkets are able to become educators for their communities.  In-store promotions, tips, recipe ideas, we've even seen the idea of in store nutritionists.  All this can help to educate and motivate the shoppers and break down nutrition barriers.