Where You Shop for Groceries May Be Influencing Your Family's Nutrition

New study finds that consumers who shop at warehouse clubs and mass merchandisers purchase foods with less nutritional value.

Packaged food is convenient when you’re running fast with a family, and stocking a pantry with snacks from a warehouse club is common for many families. A new study conducted by the UNC Chapel Hill finds that consumers who shop at warehouse clubs and mass merchandisers purchase more packaged foods with less nutritional value. These outlets offer a selection of foods that have poor nutrient profiles, with higher calories and more sugar, sodium, and saturated fat compared to grocery stores. Although much has been written about “food deserts,” where only smaller stores that sell less nutritious foods are available, unhealthy foods and beverages are ubiquitous and Americans are purchasing them everywhere.

“Previous studies on the relationship between the food environment and its association to diet have paid insufficient attention to the types of stores where people shop for food, what they actually purchase, and the nutrient profile of those purchases,” says Dr. Barry M. Popkin, of the department of nutrition, Gillings School of Global Public Health, and the Carolina Population Center at the UNC Chapel Hill.

Food and beverage groups such as savory snacks, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks and juices, fresh plain milk, and regular soft drinks were top sources of calorie purchases by U.S. households across all types of stores, including grocery stores. These food and beverage groups are major sources of added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.