Store Impulse Marketing Strategies and Body Mass Index

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 105, no. 7, July 2015, p. 1446-1452

Posted on RAND.org on January 07, 2015

by Deborah Cohen, Rebecca L. Collins, Gerald Hunter, Madhumita Ghosh Dastidar, Tamara Dubowitz

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Research Question

  1. Do placement and prices for foods in retail outlets affect customers' risk of obesity?

OBJECTIVES: We quantified the use of placement and price reduction marketing strategies in different food retail outlets to identify associations between these strategies and the risk of overweight and obesity among customers. METHODS: In 2011 we collected dietary and health information from 1372 residents in "food deserts" in Pittsburgh, PA. We audited neighborhood restaurants and food stores (n = 40) including 16 distant food venues at which residents reported shopping. We assessed end-aisle displays, special floor displays, cash register displays, and price reductions for sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs); foods high in saturated oils, fats, and added sugars; and nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and products with at least 51% whole grains. RESULTS: Supermarkets and superstores had the largest numbers of displays and price reductions for low-nutrient foods. Exposure to displays of SSBs and foods high in saturated oils, fats, and added sugars and price reduction of SSBs was associated with increased body mass index. CONCLUSIONS: In-store marketing strategies of low-nutrient foods appear to be risk factors for a higher body mass index among regular shoppers. Future research is needed to confirm the causal role of marketing strategies in obesity.

Key Findings

  • Markets allocate more displays and more price reductions to low-nutrient foods than to healthy choices.
  • These marketing strategies are associated with increased body mass for regular customers.

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