With over 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer working with thousands of clients, and educating over 1000 trainers in the Houston area, I came to a simple conclusion that food companies and grocery store chains are one of the main reasons why America is obese and has a population that is over 70% overweight. They are contributing to over 500,000 deaths annually which are directly correlated with obesity and unhealthy lifestyle. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I cannot help myself but to call this a crime against humanity. In many countries around the world, we accuse governments for killing far fewer people than our own food production and distribution at home.
Grocery stores and food companies are manipulating our foods so that our tasting palettes and our brains become addicted to them. Food designers are encouraged by food companies to produce food with a perfect blend to create a dependence on their product – in simple words, they’re turning us into food junkies! To top it off, grocery stores are encouraging us to buy unhealthy foods by whetting our appetites with samples; a study published in 2008 found that sampling food that tastes good enhances consumption of similar foods and may prompt people to seek other rewarding foods such as chocolate or other junk foods.
Every time I go to the grocery store, I notice something: there seems to be more and more processed foods and less and less natural foods. In 1970, there were about 700 unique food products to over 40,000 today, with processed foods accounting for most of the increase. Another observation I have is that the natural, healthy foods are hidden, unlike the processed, colorful junk food at the front of every aisle. Product placement is big money to grocery stores; studies have shown that unhealthy sweets and snack foods are commonly placed in checkout lines with the hope that they will buy impulsively, when are brains are most susceptible to it. And it works! Analysis shows that the average American woman eats more than 14,300 calories per year as a result of impulse purchases alone, while men consume 28,350 calories per year from impulse purchases. Which brings me to ask: Are grocery stores purposely making us fat? Consider this fact: 80% of all food items sold in grocery stores today did not exist ten years ago. Over the past 10 years, close to 10,000 new items have been introduced into supermarkets, with the majority of these items being packaged junk foods lacking nutrients due to over-processing.
If you do a simple google search for coupons right now, you would most likely see coupons solely for unhealthy, processed junk foods, which have the highest profit margin in stores. In an independent study of 1000 coupons from 6 national grocery chains, analysts found that 25% were for processed snack foods, candies, and desserts, 14% were for prepared meals, 12% were for beverages (half of which were high in sugar), 11% were for cereals, and only 3% offered discounts on fruit, 1% on unprocessed meats and <1% for fruits. John Hopkins School of Public Health founds that store sales and specials were usually directed towards food high in fats, sodium, carbohydrates, or a combination, This research is significant given that food prices are an important driver of what people eat.
Very often, grocery stores donate food to schools and students – and guess what – on multiple occasions, I personally witnessed the junk food they gave kids. But that’s not all – grocery store purposely market junk food to kids by placing them at their eye-level and using fictional media characters, which hold a strong influence on children, on the packaging of junk food. Researchers who examined nutrition labels of child-targeted products available at a U.S. grocer over the course of two years found that only 18% of products met the Institute of Medicine’s standards for nutritional quality of school foods, which is already fairly low.
Now let’s talk about the socio-economic impact of food buying. The location of the store heavily determines the quality of food found within – this applies to the amount of organic and natural food available to consumers. Regardless of the neighborhood, buyers are still paying a pretty penny for unhealthy products that could easily be replaced with more wholesome options – but the truth is, the profit margin on produce is significantly less than that of processed foods, and the grocery stores are more concerned with their bottom line than the health of their consumers.
But I’m not just here to criticize, I truly believe there are easy solutions to these issues so that big grocery store chains can play an important part in making the general population healthier. It would help if grocery stores not only promoted healthy, natural foods with more coupons, but also made these items more visible in store. They should begin showcasing healthier food companies and allow them to be more accessible, in addition to discriminating against foods that are making our children ill longterm. Grocery store chains are powerful companies with many employees, and I think that they should spend some of their resources to educate their employees on healthy lifestyle through seminars and educational materials so they can be enthusiastic about being healthy and more knowledgable for the customer. In my experience, big companies benefit from health challenges for both the employees and the customers – they create synergy between the grocery stores and the clients, making them more loyal to the brand or chain. Socially, these big supermarket chains could donate more to health and fitness non-profit organizations as support to healthy living. Health stores are the future of the 21st century, and the sooner grocery store chains realize this, the sooner they will gain new customers that are health oriented – a population that is growing as we speak. By combining all these basic points, grocery store chains’ net profit will grow in addition to contributing to a healthier and fitter American society today and tomorrow.