There you are, making sure every single store coupon you can possibly use is going to cut down on that grocery bill. But while the prices are slimming down with the discounts offered by supermarkets, the foods with the most discounts could be expanding your waistline.
In a new study published this month in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease (PDF here), researchers found that most of the coupons grocery stores offer (which excludes manufacturer coupons) online or via loyalty reward programs rack up discounts on high-calorie foods like crackers, chips, desserts, processed prepared meals and sugary drinks.
On the other hand, there are barely any price cuts on healthier items like lean meats, low-fat dairy products or fresh fruits and veggies.
This could contribute to our nation’s obesity epidemic, researchers say, as people are often shopping on a budget and rely on those coupons to be able to buy enough food to live on.
“We know from other studies that when you lower the price of foods, people buy more of them,” study author Dr. Hilary Seligman tells Philly.com. “When junk foods are the foods stores are lowering the prices of, we shouldn’t be surprised that more of them are purchased.”
The study took into account 1,056 online store coupons that were offered over a 4-week study period in April (when there wouldn’t be any added holiday discounts offered) and found: The biggest piece of the coupon pie went to the 25% for processed snack foods, candies, and desserts and that about 12% of coupons were for beverages, more than half of which were for sodas, juices, and sports/energy drinks.
Then there were the coupons for fruits (less than 1% of the total) and vegetables (only 3%). That could be attributed to the fact that retailers make more money from processed items and could possibly lose money on discounted produce, since they already end up throwing away plenty of unsold products.
Because many use coupons to stretch their food budgets along with aid from the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP), you better believe customers are going to take whatever discounts they can, whether healthy or unhealthy for them. SNAP usually provides about $4.50 to feed one person for a day.
“The bottom line is that people are spending $4.50 on what they are eating,” study author Seligman says. “The only way to do that well or without feeling hungry often is to take advantage of the specials that grocery stores are offering. When all the specials are for candy, sweets and processed foods, it doesn’t give the low-income consumer many choices.”
But researchers think that if grocery stores incentivized more healthy food items, it could help the public eat healthier.
“Recent work emphasizes the importance of the food environment and other external forces on the quality and quantity of food consumed,” the study explains. “Grocery retailers may be uniquely positioned to positively influence Americans’ dietary patterns.”