Supermarkets pushing unhealthy food, putting profits above health of families: new study

The Inside our supermarkets: Assessment of the healthiness of Australian supermarkets report exposes how supermarkets give more shelf space and aggressively promote unhealthy products over healthier food, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio said supermarkets are continuing to put the profits of unhealthy industries before the health of already struggling communities.

“Victorian families are facing tough times on many fronts right now. Now they’re also being bombarded by unhealthy food and drinks while trying to stock up on essentials and stay healthy,” Dr Demaio said.

“It’s incredibly concerning how some supermarkets strategically discount and give more shelf space to unhealthy food and drinks, including placing highly processed products at the end of aisles and near checkouts, making it difficult for shoppers – especially kids – to resist.

“We all need more fresh, healthy food in our lives. But it’s not easy when we’re surrounded by unhealthy, cheap food.”

In the most disadvantaged areas, the proportion of shelf space given to unhealthy food and drinks (versus fruit and vegetables) was nearly 10 per cent higher than in the least disadvantaged areas, the study found.

“It’s highly unethical for supermarkets to target shoppers in disadvantaged communities with more unhealthy food,” Dr Demaio said.

“Food packed with cheap ingredients like salt, sugar and fat is harming our health, and these communities already experience higher rates of diet-related health issues, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“Supermarkets have a real opportunity to do more to support all Australians to enjoy a healthy diet by allocating less shelf-space to unhealthy items, offering fewer discounts on unhealthy food and drinks and replacing unhealthy items at end-of-aisle displays and checkouts with healthy products.”

The report, by Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre in the Institute for Health Transformation, includes the results of in-store audits of 104 supermarkets in Victoria (26 Woolworths supermarkets, 26 Coles supermarkets, 26 Aldi supermarkets and 26 independent supermarkets).

Key findings include:

  • Unhealthy food was present at 90 per cent of all staff-assisted checkouts

  • ‘Chocolate and confectionery’ and unhealthy drinks were the two most common types of food displayed at checkouts

  • Food on special at checkouts was 7.5 times more likely to be unhealthy than healthy

  • Of all end-of–aisles that displayed food and drinks, 80% had at least one type of unhealthy item. The top two types of food displayed were ‘chocolate and confectionery’ and chips

  • The proportion of shelf space allocated to unhealthy food and drinks (compared with fruit and vegetables) in the most disadvantaged areas was nearly 10% higher than in the least disadvantaged areas.

For the full report and findings, visit:

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