A new study by two Lehman College professors assessed the nutritional quality of foods advertized on the first page of online weekly circulars from 15 supermarket stores in the Bronx over a two-month period. The results of the study—by Professors Danna Ethan and Lalitha Samuel of the College’s Health Sciences Department—found that less healthy foods were often promoted at the expense of more nutritious options. The study was recently published in The Journal of Community Health.
“We found that less than 2 percent of the products were high in fiber and only 16.5 percent of the advertisements were for fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables,” said Dr. Samuel. “Almost three-quarters of the sugar-sweetened beverages were advertised with promotional sales that encouraged purchasing of multiple units of these energy-dense foods.”
Simply put, the flyers promoted food that was cheap, sugary, and of poor nutritional value.
“Circulars are an opportunity for these stores to promote healthy food options for their customers, which they are not doing enough of,” adds Dr. Ethan. “Instead, they may be contributing to the problem by highlighting calorie-dense foods and sugary beverages.”
The food environment in the Bronx is often lacking in nutritious options, a possible contributor to the highest adult diabetes rate in New York City — which is significantly higher than that of the nation’s, notes Dr. Ethan. Portions of the Bronx, like other economically stagnant urban areas, are often labeled “food deserts” for the lack of fresh produce or other low-fat, non-processed food choices.
Ultimately, the customer must make healthy choices for their own well being. “Individuals must be educated to make healthy choices,” explained Dr. Samuel. “The study implies that individuals must plan ahead to prepare healthy meals and shop accordingly. And perhaps individuals can use their buying influence to encourage supermarkets to advertise fruits and vegetables as well as whole grain products, thereby positively influencing the community.”