Obesity Prevention at the Point of Purchase

Published in: Obesity Reviews, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on March 02, 2016

by Deborah A. Cohen, Lenard I. Lesser

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Research Question

  1. What interventions can help people make better food choices at the point of purchase?

The point of purchase is when people may make poor and impulsive decisions about what and how much to buy and consume. Because point of purchase strategies frequently work through non-cognitive processes, people are often unable to recognize and resist them. Because people lack insight into how marketing practices interfere with their ability to routinely eat healthy, balanced diets, public health entities should protect consumers from potentially harmful point of purchase strategies. We describe four point of purchase policy options including standardized portion sizes; standards for meals that are sold as a bundle, e.g. 'combo meals'; placement and marketing restrictions on highly processed low-nutrient foods; and explicit warning labels. Adoption of such policies could contribute significantly to the prevention of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. We also discuss how the policies could be implemented, along with who might favour or oppose them. Many of the policies can be implemented locally, while preserving consumer choice.

Key Findings

  • Daily decisions about what food to eat and how much to consume tend to be impulsive.
  • Through marketing and product placement in stores, food companies can take advantage of these non-rational food choices.
  • Public health regulations could encourage standardized portion sizing, adherence to USDA meal guidelines for bundled ("value meal") restaurant options, restrictions on placement and marketing of foods with low nutrient value, and warning labels on certain foods.
  • Federal and local governments could use other incentives for businesses such as tax rate adjustments or zoning processes to encourage healthy marketing behavior.

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