Parent-child power struggles in the retail isles are commonplace - with children often begging for sweets, crisps and other junk foods, and parents often giving in. But according to researchers in the USA, a healthier approach to product placement on retail shelves could help to avoid such struggles.
Writing in the journal Appetite, the team suggested that altering food placement, allowing children to sample healthy food at the store and offering cooking classes to older children were realistic ways to help encourage children and families – especially those in low-income areas – to eat better.
Led by Pamela J. Surkan from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the researchers believe that the study is the first to examine both the influence of store environment on children and children's influence on grocery shopping.
"Our study suggests that grocery shopping with children often can have negative consequences on the healthfulness of grocery purchases, but has the potential to have a positive influence instead," commented Surkan.
“While placement of junk food within children's reach was thought to increase requests for unhealthy food, moving these items out of reach and making healthy foods appear more enticing to children could reverse this effect,” suggested the team.
“Similarly, participants suggested that creating opportunities for children to interact with healthy foods may increase healthy purchasing by leading children to request healthier foods and allowing them to try new products that their caregivers would not otherwise risk purchasing.”
The new findings come from part of a project designed to encourage healthy food purchasing in a low-income neighbourhood in Baltimore, USA. The qualitative study, which yielded narratives rather than numeric findings, included 62 adults from southwest Baltimore: 30 who participated in interviews and another 32 who participated in five focus groups.
The team behind the project found that many caregivers, when pressed by their children, ended up buying food that they did not intend to buy – with caregivers reporting that this dynamic is ‘particularly frustrating’ for those on limited budgets who are trying to save money and make healthy meals.
To counter this problem, caregivers suggested altering food placement, allowing children to sample healthy food at the store and offering cooking classes to older children.
Participants also remarked on the quantity and advertising of junk food options, versus healthy options.
Volume 81, 1 October 2014, Pages 330–336, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.06.104
“Child as change agent. The potential of children to increase healthy food purchasing”
Authors: Katherine Wingert, Drew A. Zachary, Monica Fox, Joel Gittelsohn, Pamela J. Surkan